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Right now it appears that child allowances, not the peace process, will determine whether the next Kadima Party leader can form a government. If that person manages to reach an agreement to increase allowances that satisfies Shas, and if Labor and Kadima's members are willing to live with that agreement, there will be a coalition. A coalition without Shas seems nearly impossible, leading a senior member of the ultra-Orthodox party to conclude: "Shas is in the best political position a party can hope for - holding real swing-vote power."

Let us be clear: If there is something about Tzipi Livni that bugs Shas, it's not her gender, but her ethnic affiliation. Not because she's Ashkenazi - there have been plenty of Ashkenazi prime ministers - but her North Tel Aviv heritage, which espouses high-minded language and is preoccupied with human rights. In other words, Shaul Mofaz will have an easier time rebuilding the current coalition simply because Shas feels a lot more comfortable with him.

But right now, Shas views the child allowances as the 11th commandment, and will have no problem receiving them from a female prime minister. Furthermore, an agreement on the allowances could usher United Torah Judaism into the coalition, just so long as Yaakov Litzman gets the Knesset Finance Committee.

Nevertheless, Labor Party secretary general Eitan Cabel is "very pessimistic" about the chances of forming a new government. Several senior Kadima members take the same dim view: elections are unavoidable. The final day of the summer session, when several coalition budgetary bills collapsed, made it clear the current coalition has zero ability to govern this Knesset.

As National Religious Party leader Zevulun Orlev has observed, as election time nears, parties are far less prepared to make concessions. That goes also for Kadima itself, whose members remember that at least a quarter of their voters came from the late Shinui party, and are unlikely to forgive their elected leader for capitulating on the allowances issue.

The three right-wing parties - Likud, National Union, and Yisrael Beiteinu - say they want elections. Are they to be believed? Judging by past experience, the weak link is Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman and Shas have almost the same number of Knesset seats. He could ostensibly take advantage of the situation to secure two achievements for his immigrant constituency: the civil union law, and destroying the Rabbinate's monopoly on conversion. But these things never truly interested Lieberman. The two things he genuinely cares about - changing the system of government, and land and population swaps - he could probably accomplish only with a government he heads.

Back to Kadima: Livni could try to form a leftist government with Kadima, Pensioners, Labor and Meretz. But that gives her at most 57 votes, so she would need the support of Arab parties. In Israeli politics it is considered illegitimate to rely on the Arab votes, so there is almost no chance such a government will be formed.

Mofaz has more options, but only in theory. He can form a broad rightist government with almost 80 seats, if he only gives up on the idea of a land-for-peace deal. Kadima would never tolerate that. So that leaves Mofaz and Livni cramming into the current coalition with Shas and Labor, a coalition that will be so very hard to rebuild.