Israel inched closer to early national elections on Wednesday night when the religious Shas Party rejected a proposal from new Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni to join the coalition she is trying desperately to cobble together by the end of the month.
Livni has only about a week left to form a new government to replace that of caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. If she fails, early national elections will be scheduled for 90 days later, and Olmert will remain in power in the meantime.
That scenario appeared increasingly likely when Shas leader Eli Yishai unceremoniously dismissed Livni's latest coalition offer, despite the fact that she had largely caved to the religious party's demand for over $250 million in additional funds for child allowances.
Kadima officials cited by the Israeli media accused Shas of wanting early national elections.
But even if Shas had accepted the offer, the powerful Labor Party of Defense Minister Ehud Barak was expected to revolt and possibly leave the nascent coalition. Labor is opposed to making any additions to the already-strained 2009 national budget.
Noting that Livni could become prime minister after being elected by a mere 13,000 of her own party members, many Israelis have been clamoring for early national elections, which polls show opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party will win by a healthy margin.