The Coalition Talks / With Partners Like These

Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni's decision to include her chief rival in the party, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, in last night's make-or-break discussion about whether to call elections or try to form a narrow government reflects a somewhat belated understanding that she needs the backing of the man who almost defeated her in the party's leadership primary.

After a brief time-out, Mofaz decided to remain in politics, consolidate his power base and exercise his right - earned by having lost to Livni by a mere 400 votes - to be crowned the party's number two. He is the undisputed leader of the party's center-right faction.

Since the September primary, Livni has been given a searing lesson in what it means to be faced with an internal opposition. The MKs affiliated with Mofaz threatened to vote against a narrow government in the Knesset, which would probably make it impossible for her to form such a government. Nor did Mofaz hesitate to hold independent talks with Shas and the Pensioners Party in an effort to torpedo Livni's bid to form a narrow government. He did not even inform Livni of these talks; she learned about them from the media.

Livni will also need Mofaz's support in order to present a united party front if, as now seems likely, early elections are called. He has the best organized group of activists in the party, which could be significant both in boosting Kadima's overall performance at the ballot box and in determining its Knesset slate: Because this slate will be chosen via a party-wide primary, Mofaz could easily opt to use his corp of activists primarily to get his own loyalists elected. And the last thing Livni needs is a rebellious Knesset faction.

Mofaz and his supporters believe that Livni has finally gotten the message over the last few days: She sent emissaries to speak with three of Mofaz's most loyal lieutenants - MKs Zeev Elkin, Otniel Schneller and David Tal - and invited Mofaz to last night's meeting, thereby making him a partner in whatever decision Livni ultimately reached.