(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni will ask President Shimon Peres on Sunday to give her a two-week extension beyond Monday's deadline to form a new coalition, sources close to Livni said Thursday night.
The sources said she was encouraged by negotiations over the past two days with Shas, United Torah Judaism and Meretz and confident she would be able to form a government, ideally by the time the Knesset returns to session on October 27, but definitely by the final deadline of November 3.
The key to forming a government remains bridging the gap between Shas's demand for NIS 1 billion in child welfare allotments and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On's opposition to such benefits in principle. Livni hosted Bar-On for breakfast at her Tel Aviv home on Thursday in an effort to find a solution.
"I am against child welfare payments even if they are called by another name," Bar-On said in a recent conversation. "I am against any incentive that doesn't encourage people to enter the workforce."
Shas and Kadima negotiating teams met for the first time in two weeks on Thursday night following a long-awaited, hour-and-a-half-long meeting between Livni and Shas chairman Eli Yishai at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in the afternoon.
Although representatives of the two parties met for more than four hours on the socioeconomic issue, Shas officials said no progress was made. They said the diplomatic issue was not raised at the meeting.
A Kadima official said many new ideas were discussed that could lead to a deal with Shas and the fact that the meeting went on for so long was itself a positive sign.
Earlier, Yishai told reporters after his meeting with Livni that there had been no breakthrough and the gaps between the parties were still large, but that he sensed a willingness on Kadima's part to bridge them, so he was initiating the meeting of the negotiating teams. He said that whatever funding he obtained for poor families must be included in the 2009 state budget and not spread out over subsequent years.
"The path to joining the government is still long," Yishai said. "Shas isn't afraid of elections, because we aren't afraid of sitting in the opposition and a government without us won't last long. I won't be in the government unless I can deliver a real accomplishment, and I won't settle for a trick in terminology to make me feel good."
Defeated Kadima leadership candidate Shaul Mofaz called Yishai to encourage him to join the government. He told Yishai he saw Shas as a strategic coalition partner for Kadima.
United Torah Judaism MKs stressed on Thursday that they were not interested in serving as an alternative to Shas in the coalition. They revealed that Kadima's negotiating team had asked them if they would object to serving in a Shas-less government, and they had replied diplomatically that they preferred a government with both haredi parties and that Kadima should make every effort to make that a reality.
"We don't want to do anything to encourage Kadima to bring Meretz into the coalition and leave Shas outside," UTJ MK Avraham Ravitz said.
Ravitz denied a report that UTJ might remain outside the government due to Livni's gender. Ma'ariv quoted Ravitz's rabbi, Degel Hatorah mentor Shalom Yosef Elyashiv, saying that entering a government led by a woman prime minister was "not simple" for UTJ. The rabbi said, according to the article, that his party hadn't joined Golda Meir's government for that reason.
Meretz leader Haim Oron said he had told Livni that he preferred a broad government that included both haredi parties, but he would also join a coalition with just one of them or neither of them. In a meeting with Kadima's negotiating team on Thursday, Oron and Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On said they would accept any coalition partner that would not insist on vetoing any negotiations with the Palestinians on Jerusalem's fate.
Oron and Gal-On requested two ministers and a Knesset committee chairmanship for their party. They also demanded that there to be simultaneous negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria, a settlement freeze in the West Bank, the removal of illegal outposts, and equalization of male and female wages in the public sector.
Gal-On said that Meretz would find it difficult to join the coalition if Daniel Friedmann remained justice minister. Kadima is to respond to Meretz's demands when they meet again on Saturday night.