Livni: Either I'm PM or Opposition Head

Kadima's representatives yesterday recommended party chairwoman Tzipi Livni to the president for the task of forming a government, saying that her moderate views could represent a unity government that would stretch from the center to the fringes, both to the right and the left.

"If I'm not charged with forming the government I'll go to the opposition," Livni said outside the cabinet meeting room yesterday, one of Kadima's ministers said. This statement indicated that Livni objected to joining a Likud-led government.

She reiterated that a national unity government should be set up under her leadership, but her colleagues did not rule out a rotation agreement between Livni and Netanyahu, or a unity government led by Netanyahu, with an equal number of Likud and Kadima ministers.

It is still unclear who Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman will nominate as his candidate for prime minister in his recommendation to President Shimon Peres today. Kadima leaders believe Lieberman, who holds the key to forming the government, will recommend neither Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu nor Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. Likud leaders hope Lieberman will recommend Netanyahu for the task.

If Lieberman objects to joining a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu and insists on a national unity government, then Netanyahu would not be able to form a coalition. However, Netanyahu has promised Shas to be part of his government and is not considering a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox party.

Peres yesterday began consultations with Knesset factions' representatives, and is expected to decide over the weekend whether to charge Netanyahu or Livni with the task of setting up a coalition.

Peres intends to complete his consultations with all the faction representatives by tonight.

The president first met the representatives of Kadima, the largest faction in the next Knesset. The Likud is heartened by the 50 MKs who recommend Netanyahu for prime minister, including Likud, National Union, Habayit Hayehudi and United Torah Judaism. Even if Lieberman fails to join them, Netanyahu will have a majority over Livni, who only has her own faction's 28 members to recommend her.

"It would be better for Livni if Peres doesn't charge her with forming the government because she would fail again and cause damage to herself and Kadima," a senior Kadima source told Haaretz.

Kadima sources said that Livni realized she could not form a government but had to "play the game" and hope that Netanyahu fails to do so as well, if he cannot persuade Lieberman to join his right-wing government.

Finance Minister Ronny Bar-On said after the meeting that if Livni were to form a coalition, it would have the greatest maneuverability because "she doesn't have this or that commitment that could influence her decisions."

Immediately following the meeting with Kadima, Peres invited Likud representatives to his office for consultations. MKs Gideon Sa'ar, Silvan Shalom, Yuval Steinitz and Dan Meridor recommended that Netanyahu forms the next government. They dismissed the notion of a premiership rotation between Likud and Kadima.