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The new coalition is almost certain to cost an extra NIS 2 billion to NIS 3 billion a year as parties - Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu and United Torah Judaism - extort budgets in exchange for joining the government. Knesset sources project that regardless of whether Kadima leader Tzipi Livni or Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu builds the government, he or she will have to accede to the parties' demands in order to create a stable coalition, however sorry Israel's economic condition.

In October 2008 Livni elected to brave elections rather than succumb to the demands of Shas. But the religious party isn't going to relent on any of its demands, Shas sources insist.

Shas is demanding an extra NIS 1.5 billion for child allowances. In September Livni agreed to NIS 800 million, no more, and NIS 150 million for other purposes.

Yesterday UTJ chairman Yakov Litzman said his party supported Shas' call for child allowances.

Sources in Yisrael Beiteinu said yesterday that the party would demand up to half a billion shekels for immigrant absorption, infrastructures and hospitals.

If Netanyahu builds the government, he's likely to bring in Habayit Hayehudi and National Union, which will demand hundreds of millions of shekels for Torah study institutions, yeshivot hesder and the like.

But even if Netanyahu offers to ally with Kadima, there will be a cost.

As for Labor, its sources say the party will evidently be in the opposition.

Another aspect of a weak coalition is a bloated government - there could be as many as six parties on board, each demanding clout through cabinet seats. This means more ministers than ever before, plus deputy ministers. The usual key for distributing cabinet portfolios is one portfolio per three parliamentary seats. On that basis, Likud would get nine portfolios (plus the prime minister), Yisrael Beiteinu would get five, Shas will demand four even though it has only 11 seats, and Habayit Hayehudi and National Unity will get one each. If Kadima joins the coalition, it will be offered nine portfolios. This gives us a government of 30 ministers, the biggest in Israeli history.