- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2008

JERUSALEM | Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday received formal approval to form a new Israeli government, starting the clock on a 42-day period for putting together a new team and resuming Mideast peace negotiations.

Mrs. Livni, 50, once an agent of the Mossad spy agency, has pledged to pursue peace with the Palestinians and Syria, following up negotiations started by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. She would be Israel’s first female prime minister since 1974.

Meanwhile, a driver plowed a BMW car into a group of pedestrians at a busy intersection near Jerusalem’s Old City late Monday, injuring 13 people before he was fatally shot, Israeli police and rescue service said.

Israel Radio said armed civilians killed the driver. He was not immediately identified, but the wording of the police statement indicated it was believed he was a Palestinian. It was the third attack in Jerusalem in which vehicles have been used as weapons in recent months.

Even before President Shimon Peres gave her the official title of prime minister-designate Monday evening, Mrs. Livni was conducting intensive talks with party leaders over their terms to join a coalition.

But nothing is automatic in Israel’s unruly political arena, and other parties may decide to take their chances with a snap election.

If Mrs. Livni fails to set up a coalition that can win parliamentary approval, Israel would hold an election within 90 days. Then the work of hammering together a coalition government would start over, stretching well into next year.

After Mr. Peres handed her the folder with the official appointment, she said, “I agree to take upon myself the role of forming a government,” but only when Mr. Peres prompted her that she needed to accept the task.

As leader of the largest party in parliament, Mrs. Livni was the automatic choice to succeed Mr. Olmert, who resigned Sunday because of a string of corruption allegations. Last week Mrs. Livni won a primary election to succeed Mr. Olmert as head of their Kadima Party, which has 29 seats in parliament.

Mr. Peres compressed the allotted week of party consultations into less than a day and a half before appointing Mrs. Livni. Mr. Peres was leaving later Monday for New York, where he is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.

Mr. Olmert’s coalition, which serves as a transition government until parliament approves a new one, represents 64 out of the 120 seats in parliament. Mrs. Livni’s most apparent option would be to re-create the same coalition of her Kadima Party, Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Labor, with 19 seats, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas with 12 and the Pensioners Party with four.

Shas or Labor may decide that their interests are better served in a snap election, though polls indicate that could be a dangerous choice, especially for Labor, which could lose strength. Livni supporters are making the obligatory pronouncements about trying to form a broad “national unity” government, bringing in the hard-line Likud party and others.

However, the Likud leader, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, scoffs at the idea and would rather face Mrs. Livni and Mr. Barak in an election, encouraged by polls that show he could win.

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