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Meretz leaders met Sunday evening in an attempt to choose which candidate the party would name as its choice for prime minister in their meeting with President Moshe Katsav on Monday. They did not reach a final decision, but there was a near-consensus that the party would not recommend Labor chairman Amir Peretz.
According to MK Ran Cohen, chairman of the party's negotiations committee for the coalition talks, the probable decision was a result of Meretz's opposition to joining a coalition that included right-wing parties. The negotiations committee also includes MKs Haim Oron and Zehava Gal-On.
A Meretz spokesman said no final decision had been made, and that it was still possible the party would endorse Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or indicate no preference at all. They planned to decide at the last minute, shortly before the meeting with Katsav, he said.
Following a meeting with Peretz earlier on Sunday, Beilin said that Meretz would support Peretz as its preferred candidate to form a governing coalition.
"Of course we would like to see a situation in which Amir Peretz is the prime minister," Beilin said.
"A diplomatic settlement [with the Palestinians] or the establishment of political borders and social justice are the goal of both parties," he said.
Nevertheless, Beilin also said his party would not join a coalition with right-wing parties to block Olmert from forming a Kadima-led government.
Meretz members accused party leader Yossi Beilin last week of being responsible for their failure to win more than five mandates in the election, and called to move up internal elections for the movement's leadership. Last Wednesday, both Cohen and Gal-On announced their intention to run for the party leadership in the event of internal elections. However, they have both refrained from calling upon Beilin to resign.
Speaking early Sunday evening on Channel 1, Cohen reiterated both the party's stance against joining a coalition with right-wing parties, and its support for Peretz.
"We decided on Thursday that we would recommend him to lead the government," Cohen said, adding that the voters had given 70 mandates in favor of social justice.
"If Olmert doesn't get up and say that Peretz isn't disqualified as a possible finance minister, and that he wants to enter negotiations with him, that means he is making a mockery of the voters," Cohen said.
Both Beilin and Gal-On said Sunday that a merger between Meretz and Labor - which former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid called for last week - was not currently under discussion.
Speaking on Army Radio on Sunday morning, Gal-On said that such a merger would amount to a betrayal of the party's voters.