Labor, Kadima Close to Closing 'Deal'

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Late night negotiations between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's Kadima party and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's Labor party are expected to yield an agreement before the Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) holiday begins Monday evening.

According to Jerusalem Post political correspondent Gil Hoffman, Barak has backed off virtually all of his demands for joining a Livni-led coalition, including his request to lead negotiations with Syria, expand the 2009 state budget, and dismiss Justice Minister Daniel Friedman.

Barak instructed his representatives to reach a deal with Kadima before he leaves for a three-day holiday in the Galilee.

"We are acting with an open mind and a willing soul to reach an agreement on a new government," Barak told his Labor ministers Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz - who came within one percentage point of defeating Livni in the Kadima party primaries - rescinded his post-election announcement that he was retiring from politics.

"We cannot afford to play games of power," Mofaz said. "We must unite our ranks for the challenges of the coming year. No one has the right to risk the limited trust we have received from the public," he said.

Livni, who welcomed the transportation minister's change of heart, also repeated her invitation to the opposition Likud party to join her coalition.

"Forming a government as wide as possible is the right thing to do," she said. "The public won't forgive whoever decides to violate unity, not joining the government and cause an election at such at time."

Likud faction leader Gideon Saar responded by saying that Livni was using the global economic crisis to further her own political agenda.

"Instead of speaking in the name of the public, Livni should request the trust of the public via general elections," Saar said. "Holding on for another few months with a collapsing coalition will not help the country face the economic and security challenges ahead," he said.

Sources: The Jerusalem Post, YNet news

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