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Israel's Livni scraps coalition effort, wants early elections

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  • NEW: Tzipi Livni to meet with President Shimon Peres at 2 p.m. ET
  • Kadima Party leader Livni drops bid to form coalition government
  • Developments could hamper President Bush's desire for Mideast peace deal
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Unable to form a new coalition government, Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni said Sunday she has asked Israeli President Shimon Peres to hold early general elections.

Israel's Tzipi Livni has asked for early general elections.

Israel's Tzipi Livni has asked for early general elections.

The likelihood of holding snap elections became a near-certainty Friday, when the ultra-Orthodox Shas party rejected a bid to join a coalition headed by Livni, who would have become prime minister. Other minority parties also rejected her invitations.

Livni is expected to meet with Peres at 2 p.m. (8 a.m. ET), Livni spokesman Gil Messing said. The elections would most likely be held in mid-February, he said.

Earlier, Messing said Livni had to choose between "blackmail" and elections. Livni opted not to give in to "unreasonable" demands, he said.

The developments further imperil President Bush's desire for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace deal by the time he leaves office in January.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will continue to lead as interim prime minister until a successor is chosen. However, it is unclear whether he will be able to strike a deal with the Palestinians before Israel forms its new government.

Livni had submitted coalition proposals to the Pensioner's Party and the Meretz Party. The Pensioner's Party, with four seats, said the offer was far from acceptable and pulled out of talks, telling Israel's Haaretz newspaper, "in this situation there is no point in engaging in negotiations -- it's a waste of time."

Shas, which has been known for its hardball negotiating demands, said it could not reach agreement with Livni on two major points -- increasing welfare payments to the poor and the final status of Jerusalem.

Roy Lahmanovich, the Shas party spokesman, said the Council of Sages of Shas, headed by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, had decided in a phone referendum not to have its 12 parliament members join a coalition led by Livni.

Shas negotiators offered alternatives to Livni's proposal that she did not accept, according to Lahmanovich.

On September 17, Livni narrowly won the Kadima Party primary to become party leader, beating out her more conservative rival, Shaul Mofaz, the current transportation minister and the former defense minister.

Livni's 1 percent victory over Mofaz led her political rivals, chief among them Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, to declare Livni did not have a real mandate to govern Israel.

In the intervening weeks, Livni persuaded the Labor Party with its 19 seats to remain in a coalition government with her by agreeing to name Labor chief Ehud Barak to the position of second-in-command as the senior deputy prime minister and giving him a major role in the peace negotiations with Syria.

To assume power, Livni would have to find enough coalition members to give her government a minimum of 61 seats in the 120-member parliament, the Knesset. Kadima has 29 seats. Livni had also been talking with the United Torah Judaism with its six seats.

One option was for Livni to put together a narrow coalition with Labor, the Pensioners Party, Meretz and United Torah Judaism with 63 seats. However, Labor Party officials said they would be reluctant to be in a coalition with such a thin mandate.

CNN's Shira Medding contributed to this report.

All About IsraelTzipi LivniEhud Olmert

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