Livni's Tactics / Slow and Faltering

This is the very scenario Tzipi Livni fears: As required, Ehud Olmert, outgoing prime minister, will open the Knesset's winter session on Tuesday with a speech. Free from any future commitments and the limitations of his office, Olmert will start singing a left-wing song, offering to return the territories - all the territories, as he told Yedioth Ahronoth on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

After Olmert, Benjamin Netanyahu will speak, while Livni, "the designated" in waiting, will say nothing. She is not even in the picture, she does not play a role at all. At the end of the day, she will also be forced to vote in favor of Olmert's speech and political declaration.

For the past five weeks, since she was elected the leader of Kadima, Livni has learned a thing or two about politics. She sought short, quick and elegant negotiations. Instead, she got a long, slow and faltering process. She talked about signing within an hour or two, and just two days ago, on the eve of Simhat Torah, she was forced to ask President Shimon Peres for a 14-day extension in addition to the 28 days of missed opportunities she already used or wasted.

Over the past two decades, only one "designate" needed more than a month to form a government: Ehud Barak - and we all know what happened to him.

Rabin in 1992, Netanyahu in 1996, Sharon in 2001 and 2003, and Olmert in 2006 all needed less time to form a coalition.

And what does Livni have to show for it after 30 days? One agreement, set in the most general terms, with Labor, which Barak has deemed "not final." Other parties are not exactly waiting in line for Livni. Even with easy-to-get Meretz nothing has been finalized.

Livni must choose between the lesser of two evils: A government with Shas will cost her and the treasury dearly. Shas is determined to make her crawl. "If she wants us to join, she should start talking about billions or more," Shas sources are saying.

A left-wing government with 60 MKs would only be good on paper: Shaul Mofaz and his troops have already said they will never vote for such a minority government. Mofaz is strengthening Eli Yishai, who has been hinting he would rather see Mofaz in the treasury than Roni Bar-On. There is no doubt Mofaz had ended his time-out after the primary and is back working behind the scenes. Mofaz and Bar-On are turning out to be two major players in the political arena.