"Tzipi Livni should consider sitting in the opposition and attacking the Likud's policy, and within a year-and-a-half Kadima will lead the country," a Kadima party official told Ynet Wednesday night amid coalition negotiations launched on the heels of Tuesday's inconclusive general elections.
Political establishment sources estimate that, barring any unforeseen developments, President Shimon Peres will eventually task Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu with establishing the next government.
Earlier in the day Netanyahu met with Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman and Shas leader Eli Yishai, and later told a Likud faction meeting that he would work diligently to guarantee that they would join the coalition as soon as possible.
Lieberman refused to say which candidate his party would recommend to Peres, but political sources said he has already struck a deal with Netanyahu to ensure that the Likud chairman would be tasked with forming the next government.
Political sources postulated that Netanyahu will go to great lengths to include Kadima in his government, and may guarantee Livni's party as many as eight important ministerial portfolios towards this end.
Kadima, for its part, is looking to thwart the burgeoning right-wing bloc, but a party official said Chairwoman Livni should "seriously consider the possibility of sitting in the opposition, and not necessarily be dragged into a Netanyahu government that also features Shas, Lieberman, and possibly united Torah Judaism."
'Nobody knows how to read Lieberman'
In the days still left before President Peres begins his consultations with Knesset factions, Kadima officials will attempt to exert immense pressure on various party leaders, headed by Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas.
"Livni is conducting herself correctly," a source in Kadima said. "She's fighting to the last moment and proving that she does not intend for a moment to give up on the chance to form a government. She's acting correctly in political terms."
Meanwhile, despite and perhaps because of Netanyahu's efforts, tensions are high among Likud members. Senior Likud officials said they are concerned that Lieberman may disregard previous agreements with Netanyahu in order to "save his skin."
According to a "conspiracy theory" circulated among Likudniks, the Yisrael Beiteinu leader, who is facing several police probes, may endorse Livni based on the assumption that his membership in a center-Left government would improve his legal situation.
"Lieberman is familiar with history," a senior Likud figure told Ynet. "He saw what happened to Ariel Sharon when he broke to the left, and he knows that Sharon was spared the probes and indictments because of his decision to evacuate the Gaza Strip."
"Nobody knows how to read Lieberman," said the official. "The man is completely unpredictable."