Rising tensions: The rift between Kadima leader Ehud Olmert and Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz is growing, as the two sides continue to trade punches ahead of official talks on forming the next government.
Kadima officials are accusing Peretz of engaging in "childish" behavior over his refusal to meet Olmert.
"He (Peretz) hasn't realized yet his job as the head of the Ashdod port workers union has ended," a Kadima official said in a biting reference to the Labor party leader's former post as a union boss. "Every day he continues to conduct himself this way, he'll pay a public price. He's causing himself damage. The public doesn't understand his games. Time is not working in Amir's favor."
"There are many hungry people in the Labor party and they'll start exerting pressure on him," Kadima sources added. "The negotiations can be concluded quickly, but Amir is creating needless escalation…apparently because he promised too much to too many people. Amir needs, instead of making threats through the media every day, to come for a meeting with Ehud Olmert. That's what normal people do."
Referring to Peretz' apparent demand to secure the Finance Ministry portfolio, Kadima officials said "the likelihood he'll get the Treasury portfolio is very low, unless we want to see the stock market heading into a catastrophe."
"Amir should take the Defense portfolio. In any case, defense decisions are taken by the government," the senior sources said. "It would be interesting to see Amir Peretz as defense minister cutting NIS 2 billion from the defense budget."
Kadima also believes Peretz' chances of circumventing Olmert and forming a government with right-wing parties are slim, with both the Pensioners party and Shas expected to recommend that President Moshe Katsav task Olmert with forming the next government."
'Peretz understands Kadima's tricks'
Meanwhile, Peretz spent the weekend at his Sderot home and consulted with his associates by phone. Senior Labor sources said he has not rejected the possibility of assuming the post of defense minister.
Peretz refuses to submit to media interviews, but close associates say he has disparaged Kadima attempts to paint him as the responsible party for the failure to meet with Olmert.
"A meeting between Olmert and myself is not a private party…those are state matters, and they must be undertaken in a transparent manner," Peretz said in closed conversations over the weekend. The Labor leader made it clear he would only be meeting with Olmert after President Katsav tasks the Kadima chairman with forming the next coalition.
Earlier, Labor party Secretary General Eitan Cabel approached Olmert's office, but was told the meetings held by the acting prime minister at this time are "meetings of politeness."
"Amir won't be going to such a meeting," Peretz' close associates said. "It's clear that a minute after he leaves, they'll start leaking that he asked for all kinds of portfolios. Amir wasn't born yesterday. He understands Kadima's tricks, and he has no intention to fall into the trap."
Katsav to begin consultations with parties
Meanwhile, President Katsav will start his consultations with Knesset faction representatives Sunday afternoon before he tasks one of the parties, most likely Kadima, with forming the next government.
On Sunday, Katsav will be meeting with Kadima, Labor, Israel Our Home, and the Likud. Shas was also scheduled to meet with the president Sunday, but the religious faction decided to postpone the meeting to a later date this week. Most parties are expected to recommend that Olmert be tasked with forming the coalition.
In addition to Kadima itself, it appears United Torah Judaism and the Pensioners party will almost certainly recommend Olmert, giving him 42 Knesset seats. Shas is also likely to back Olmert. Israel Our Home has not yet decided but could also recommend the Kadima leader, while Labor and Meretez are expected to recommend Peretz.
After he consults with all parties, President Katsav will receive the official results of the elections on Wednesday. By law, the president must choose the candidate that will form the next government within a week of receiving the official results, that is, by April 12.
Ilan Marciano and Neta Sela contributed to the report