Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni are like two card players at the table, neither with a good hand, each staring the other down. They know that neither of them has good cards. But they have to keep playing because their egos hold sway, and because they are in no hurry. Livni has no coalition - not with Avigdor Lieberman because Labor and Meretz will not join, and not without Lieberman, because Likud and the ultra-Orthodox will not join.
Netanyahu also has no coalition. He still does not have 65 MKs to recommend him to the president and will probably not have this number by the end of the week, when the Knesset factions go to the president. Lieberman will apparently not recommend him and neither will Livni.
Netanyahu can take comfort only in the larger number of lawmakers recommending him over Livni, which does not ensure him a coalition. And if it does, it's the coalition of his nightmares: a dogmatic right-wing, ultra-Orthodox coalition, which exerts pressure, can be pressured and is hated by most of the public, including most Likud voters.
Netanyahu will not hear of a Kadima-Labor-Likud coalition; Livni and Ehud Barak will bolt the moment they see the chance to win an election. Netanyahu needs body armor to defend himself against these two opponents, which comes in the form of the ultra-right and the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Haim Ramon's idea of a Likud-Kadima-Yisrael Beiteinu constellation is also unacceptable to Netanyahu, because with 70 MKs, he will be totally dependent on Livni. Until the weekend, he had high hopes that Shaul Mofaz and his other supporters in Kadima would come over to Likud. However, after intensive talks over the past two days before the Kadima faction meeting, he realized Mofaz was playing it safe.
Netanyahu is afraid to invite Kadima without being in the company of his partners to the right, and he is afraid to be left with only his partners to the right. He believes everything will change when he gets the president's nod, when after a secret meeting with Livni they will forge a fine government.
But Livni will demand a rotation, and for now, Netanyahu won't allow this word to be spoken in his presence. Will this be his position at the end of the 28 or 42 days the law gives him to form a government? It's still too early to say. The best (or the worst) is yet to come.
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