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Meretz would prefer to have Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz as the next prime minister, but is recommending Kadima chairman Ehud Olmert, only because he is capable of forming a coalition without right-wing parties, party chairman Yossi Beilin told President Moshe Katsav on Monday.
Peretz's ideology was much closer to that of Meretz than was Olmert's, said Beilin, but Peretz, "even though he would make a good prime minister," will not be able to form a government without a right-wing coalition, and "we will not be part of any coalition that includes the National Union, the Likud or Israel Beiteinu."
Beilin said he had spoken with Olmert to get a clear concept of what he wanted to do. On the basis of what he had heard, he believed that Meretz could be part of a future coalition, but it would depend on whether or not the coalition would incorporate right-wing parties.
Beilin later told reporters that Olmert offered the only logical option if Meretz wanted to join the coalition.
Even so, he said, he could not say until coalition talks begin whether Meretz would be in the coalition or the opposition.
"Initially, we were going to recommend Peretz," said MK Ran Cohen, "but then we discovered the symbiosis between him and [Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman, [Likud leader Binyamin] Netanyahu and [National Union leader] Benny Elon," and we decided that "we could not go along with him."
"It was just as well that we made the discovery in time," said MK Haim Oron, in a voice that crackled with anger.
Katsav is scheduled to meet with the three Arab parties - Hadash, Balad and the United Arab List - on Tuesday, as well as with the Likud.
Summing up Monday's meetings, Katsav said the picture was becoming clearer, but he had still not made up his mind and would not do so before completing the consultations and receiving the final voting results on Wednesday evening from Supreme Justice Dorit Beinisch, who heads the Central Elections Committee.
Katsav had difficulty in getting some of the people engaged in the consultations to understand that it's not necessarily the largest party that matters, or the person that anyone likes, but the one deemed most capable of forming a government "at least in the first instance."
Two of the parties have requested a second round of talks, and Katsav is inclined to accede to the request.
United Torah Judaism has been instructed by the Council of Torah Sages to back Olmert. Shas has deferred its meeting until Wednesday but reports Monday night said the party will also recommend Olmert as prime minister.
Katsav said that he had tried to be as flexible as possible so that he could accommodate everyone's requests, but he would not let the consultations drag out beyond Sunday.