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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz failed to attend the weekly Kadima faction meeting on Sunday despite his return to the political fold after taking a time-out following his Kadima primary defeat to Tzipi Livni.
Mofaz associates said although he had returned to his ministerial post, he still had not decided on his political future and had not returned to work as a member of the Kadima faction. Therefore, they said, Mofaz was not taking part in political events such as meetings of Kadima ministers.
Mofaz did attend the cabinet meeting that came immediately after the Kadima gathering and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert referred to the transportation minister's brief break.
"I don't know what had been publicized, but I do know that the transportation minister and deputy prime minister was with me three weeks ago and he said he was requesting permission to take a short vacation until after the [Rosh Hashana} festival. He got permission and from the outset, I knew that he would return after the festival and so [his return] is no surprise," said the prime minister.
Mofaz's aides said had said he planned to make three demands at the cabinet meeting: to cancel the proposed NIS 200 million cut in the budget of the National Road Safety Authority; to pay the subsidies promised to Israeli airlines to cover their security expenditures; and to rescind the planned budget cut for paving and improving roads in the periphery.
Earlier this year, the government agreed to finance 80 percent of the Israeli airline companies' security expenditure in exchange for El Al giving up its exclusivity on certain routes, but ultimately failed to provide the money.
"He is coming back to his position. He has never left the government, he just took a time-out," one of his aides told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday.
According to Mofaz's aides, Livni has promised Mofaz the Foreign Affairs portfolio to convince him to be part of her new government.
A source close to Livni said, however, that nothing was promised to Mofaz or to any of the parties that are negotiating over entering Livni's possible coalition.
"Livni has no plans to discuss portfolios until a general agreement is reached between the parties that would make up the next government," the source added.
Meanwhile, a source close to Defense Minister Ehud Barak estimated that Livni would form a new government right after the holidays. The source said that Livni and Barak understood each other's demands and conditions, in the framework of the ongoing coalition talks they have conducted for the past three weeks.
However, the source added, their representatives, former cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon for Kadima and former MK Effie Oshaya for Labor, who are meant to be hammering out a detailed agreement, have apparently not yet reached an understanding.
"The problem starts when Livni's representatives and Barak's representatives sit together. They don't seem to be able to reach an agreement and this is the reason this process is taking longer than we thought it would take. Maybe the reason for that is their increased efforts as lawyers to prove themselves," the source said.
Barak's demands include a full and honest partnership expressed by sharing governmental decisions, and additional budgets for pensioners, infrastructure and education. Barak is also insisting on being a full partner in the political process and the peace talks.
"If it was up to Livni and Barak, they would have reached an agreement by now. That's why everything should be clearer by now. The Labor Party will not enter the government at any cost," the source said.
Livni and Barak were scheduled to meet Sunday at the Foreign Ministry to discuss financial matters with leading economists.
Livni is scheduled to meet later this week for further coalition talks with Meretz, United Torah Judaism and Shas. Livni and Shas chairman Eli Yishai met last week for further talks in an attempt to find a way to handle Shas's demand to increase child allowances.
Sources close to Livni said Kadima refuses to go back to the days of child allowances that stymied efforts to convince people to earn a living, rather than relying on welfare.
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