Coalition decision expected by Sunday

Pensioners, Meretz support Olmert; NU-NRP throws weight behind Peretz.

bibi and peretz 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
bibi and peretz 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
President Moshe Katsav, who spent Monday meeting with the representatives of various parties, will decide by next Sunday who will be appointed to form the next coalition. Meretz head MK Yosi Beilin met with President Moshe Katsav on Monday and recommended Olmert as the man to lead a coalition. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also received the support of the GIL Pensioners' Party on Monday during party chairman Rafi Eitan's meeting Katsav. Eitan called for Olmert and Labor party chairman Amir Peretz to "sit at the negotiating table together."
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Referring to Peretz's efforts to form a coalition with the Right and haredi bloc, which were halted by Labor leaders late Sunday night, senior Labor members told Army Radio on Monday that "Peretz is acting like a megalomaniac madman." Labor MK Matan Vilna'i joined the chorus of criticism against Peretz, calling his wayward coalition efforts "completely illegitimate" and "idiotic." "I will not have a hand in any move of this kind," Vilna'i said in an interview with Army Radio. "People didn't vote for us so that we'd head a right-wing haredi government." Yuli Tamir, a Labor MK who is a close associate of Peretz, emphasized that Peretz's goal was not to form a right-wing haredi government, but rather to form a coalition in which socioeconomic issues would remain front and center on the agenda. The National Union/National Religious Party threw its weight behind Peretz. In an hour-long meeting with President Katsav, party leaders Elon and Orlev asked him whether the Labor Party representative with whom he met on Sunday had specified that Peretz was willing to form an emergency socioeconomic coalition. Katsav replied in the affirmative. Support for Peretz will depend, stipulated Orlev when talking to reporters later, on a pledge by Peretz that any decision that the government reaches regarding a West Bank withdrawal will be put to referendum. Both Elon and Orlev asked for an extension of two days before they recommend a coalition leader to the president, saying that they want to be sure that they aren't being exploited by the Labor Party in its efforts to obtain the finance portfolio. Toward that end, they will meet with Katsav again later this week. The NU-NRP faction based its decision on the assumption that Peretz would preserve the status quo on diplomatic issues and refrain from implementing Olmert's plan to withdraw unilaterally from most of the West Bank. Meretz leader Yossi Beilin vowed not to sit in a government with the Right and expressed anger at Peretz for considering the idea. A prospective Peretz-led coalition would have included the 70 MKs of Labor, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Meretz, the Likud, NU-NRP and Gil. Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel had said that Peretz was serious about the move and confident that he would be the next prime minister. "In this election the public did not unequivocally determine the largest party," Cabel said. "This is the first time that the leading party has won less than 30 seats. Our figures show that there is more than one government option. There's a possibility for a socioeconomic emergency government." But other Labor MKs scoffed at the idea, calling it "empty posturing to drive Kadima's bargaining price down."