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(photo credit: Channel 10)
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu began an effort on Wednesday to prevent the formation of an alternative Kadima-led government after the eventual departure of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Netanyahu met with United Torah Judaism chairman Ya'acov Litzman, who had signaled earlier in the week that he would consider entering a coalition formed by Kadima leadership candidate Shaul Mofaz if he would commit to raising child welfare allowances and keeping Jerusalem united.
The opposition leader also met with MK Marina Solodkin, who is Olmert's fiercest critic in Kadima and who has not endorsed any candidate in the party's leadership race. Netanyahu asked both MKs to cooperate with him in ensuring that a general election will be held regardless of the race for Kadima chairman.
A primary simulation with 5,297 Kadima members conducted by the activist Web site Yalla Kadima found that despite the Talansky scandal, Olmert is still the members' top candidate for party chairman and prime minister by a significant margin.
Olmert received 32.2 percent of the votes, compared to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with 19.2%, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter at 18.3%, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz with 17% and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit at 13.2%.
When Olmert was excluded from the candidates, Dichter and Mofaz received nearly identical numbers, with Livni close behind and Sheetrit far back. Mofaz, who has formed a political bond with the prime minister, received the majority of the Olmert supporters' votes.
The Web site also simulated a race for the Kadima Knesset list. MKs who did well in the simulation included Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, Eli Aflalo, Shai Hermesh and Yoel Hasson.
Livni has met with Kadima lawmakers in recent days and urged them to demand Olmert's acquiescence to initiate a party primary when the faction meets to discuss the issue next Wednesday. MKs close to Olmert have advised him to preempt calls for his ouster by formally initiating the primary himself upon his return from Washington.
Barak has indicated that if Kadima initiated a primary, he would not have his Labor faction support Likud MK Silvan Shalom's bill to disperse the Knesset and set a November election date when the bill comes to a vote on June 18. Shalom has said he would delay a vote on the bill if it lacked a majority.
To avoid the problem in Kadima of Olmert's authorization being necessary to initiate a primary, the party's MK Ze'ev Elkin suggested holding a primary for a "vice chairman" of Kadima who would be vice prime minister and would automatically be Olmert's successor. Elkin openly supports Mofaz in the race.
Mofaz met with ministers and MKs at the Knesset on Wednesday and told them that if he were elected Kadima chairman, he could form a government and delay elections. He predicted that he could form a broad coalition with United Torah Judaism and Israel Beiteinu.
Dichter met with Kadima steering committee head MK Tzahi Hanegbi and spoke to him about the process of initiating a primary.
Sheetrit spoke about the impact of foreign contributions to Israeli political candidates in an interview with the Press Conference program on Channel 1.
"[Diaspora Jews] should not be allowed to use their money to interfere in the decisions of Israel," Sheetrit said. "It is unacceptable that we fight with our blood and they try to impact our country's decisions with their money."
Livni held individual meetings with MKs and also met with evacuees from the Gaza Strip. She called for a meeting of the ministerial committee that was formed to help people displaced by 2005's disengagement.