Livni Wins Kadima, Now Must Form Coalition

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's photo finish victory in the Kadima party primaries Wednesday came down to margin of 1.1 percent or 431 votes over the runnerup, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz. It was a narrow victory by anyone's standards.

Livni wound up with 43.1 percent of the vote (16,936) votes to Mofaz's 42 percent (16,535).

About half the party's 74,000 members voted and less than half of them voted for Livni.

Click play for a report from Jerusalem with CBN News senior editor, John Waage.

Beginning next week, the new Kadima party chairwoman will have 42 days to form a coalition, while simultaneously trying to narrow the rifts in her own party.

Mark Regev, spokesman for outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said the prime minister called Livni to congratulate her and would notify the ministers -- again -- of his resignation at Sunday's Cabinet meeting. "After that, he will resign," Regev said.

Livni's strongest accolades came from the Palestinians and from MK (member of Knesset) Yossi Beilin, of the ultra-left-wing Meretz party.

"I am really happy that Livni won because she is committed to the peace process," Beilin said. "I think the right thing for her to do now is to form a coalition that wants to promote peace rather than a broad government with the right," he said.

Officials in the Palestinian Authority (PA) responded in kind.

"Livni realizes that the solution to the current situation is a quick diplomatic agreement with us," one PA official told YNet news. "We hope that she'd be able to form a government very quickly," he said.

But not everyone was as enthusiastic as Yossi Beilin and the Palestinian Authority.

Labor MK Ofer Pines-Paz warned that if Livni gives in to "extortion," a probable reference to the demand by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party for higher government-funded child allowances, Labor may not join the new government.

"The likelihood that a government will be established is very similar to the likelihood of general elections," Pines-Paz said. "If Livni succumbs to every demand and to extortion, she may end up without us ," he said.

The Shas party, which remained in the Olmert coalition despite repeated threats to leave, said the party's call for child subsidies must be met.

"If Livni wants a government, she needs to comply with our demands," Shas chairman Eli Yishai said. "If money for children in need is extortion, then we are extortionists," he said.

Shas, which demands government subsidies for large Orthodox families, plans to submit a new bill to the next coalition requiring equal funding for private, religious school systems as for state schools.

The other Shas requirement for joining a Livni-led government is that Jerusalem's future not be discussed with the Palestinians. Many believe that the issue of Jerusalem has already been discussed in the secret negotiations with the Palestinians headed by Livni.

"If it becomes clear that Jerusalem is on the negotiating table, then we won't be part of the coalition," Shas spokesman Roi Lachmanovitch said.

He didn't elaborate on how much proof Shas leaders need to determine that the bargaining over Jerusalem has already begun.

Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar said his party would not consider joining a coalition led by Livni.

"Today a replacement prime minister is chosen, but a prime minister must be selected by the entire public," he said.

Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon (Labor) also called for new elections.

"Let's go to elections and let the people choose their prime minister," Simhon said.

"It cannot be that so few people will decide who the prime minister of Israel will be," he said.

"I welcome Livni's victory, but Labor will prefer elections," he said.

Sources: The Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, YNet news, Haaretz

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Tzippe Barrow

CBN News - Jerusalem Bureau

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