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More than 40 reporters, photographers and television and radio crews converged on Beit Hanassi when the Kadima delegation, headed by faction chairman MK Roni Bar-On, met with President Moshe Katsav at noon on Sunday. As expected, Kadima recommended that its leader, Ehud Olmert, be asked to form the next government.
As was less expected, the Labor Party proposed that its chairman, Amir Peretz, head a broad-based emergency socioeconomic coalition. Party secretary-general MK Eitan Cabel led a nine-member delegation in its 50-minute meeting with Katsav.
Katsav was curious to know how reports that Labor was seeking the Finance Ministry in a Kadima-led administration jived with Labor's recommendation.
Coalition talks will not begin until Katsav actually names Olmert, said Bar-On.
In the course of a half-hour meeting with the Kadima delegation, Katsav said that he would like to see the formation of a stable government as quickly as possible and would not allow any of the parties to play for time in their endeavors to gain leverage in coalition negotiations. He hoped to be able to reach a final decision by Sunday.
Bar-On and emphasized that no Zionist party would be disqualified from joining the coalition, providing it accepted Kadima's platform.
Cabel announced that Labor has put a priority on solving socioeconomic problems because "we believe that if we don't deal properly with existing internal social problems, including those of Israeli Arabs, we can't begin to deal with external problems."
Although Kadima won nine more mandates than Labor, Cabel asserted that the results do not clearly state the public's preference.
In fielding reporters' questions, Cabel refused to answer those related to coalition issues, beyond saying that Labor was willing to talk to all parties. "We're not putting the cart before the horse," he said, indicating that Labor would not enter coalition talks until Katsav made his choice.
However MK Yuli Tamir was adamant that while Labor would talk to Arab parties and right-wing moderates, it would not enter into discussions with Israel Beiteinu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman.
"We will form a coalition only with those right-wing parties that agree in advance to Israel's withdrawal from the territories," she said.
By the time that the Israel Beiteinu delegation, led by MK Yuri Shtern, arrived for a 5 p.m. appointment, the media representatives had dwindled to half the number that had turned out for Kadima.
Israel Beiteinu did not make any recommendations to Katsav, but is holding a plenary meeting on Monday, at which time it may decide on a candidate.