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Israeli Prime Minister-Designate Misses Deadline to Form Government

Today is the first deadline for Israel's current foreign minister to form a new government. Time is running out, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's bid to become Israel's first female prime minister in more than 30 years has suffered a setback. She failed to meet a deadline to form a new government, but Israel's president granted her a two-week extension.

Livni has already signed a coalition agreement with the dovish Labor Party. But she has not struck a deal with the other key coalition partner, the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, which opposes her plans to share Jerusalem with the Palestinians.

"Shas holds the key to her government's survival," said Jerusalem Post political correspondent Gil Hoffman. "Shas, as always, is the kingmaker."

In the horse trading that surrounds Israeli coalition talks, money is often an even bigger issue than the peace process. Shas wants about $28 million in child allowances to help support big religious families. The finance minister says that is impossible at the time of a global economic crisis, so Shas is refusing to join the government.

"Shas's demands of raising the child welfare payments and other demands that they have - they have not been solved in any way," Hoffman said. "There has been no progress in any of the negotiations that there have been with Shas."

If Livni fails to form a government in two weeks, there would be early elections, probably in March of next year. Elections would amount to a referendum on the peace process. Livni supports the creation of a Palestinian state, while her opponent, hawkish former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, does not.