(Reuters) - Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni began discussions on Thursday to form a new coalition government after winning a ballot to succeed scandal-hit prime minister Ehud Olmert as leader of the ruling Kadima party.
Here are facts about some key Israeli political players whose decisions in the coming weeks could either help Livni form the next government or lead to an early parliamentary election:
* EHUD BARAK. Defence minister who leads left-wing Labour Party, Kadima’s main ally in outgoing coalition. Barak trails Livni and right-wing Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu in polls. So while Barak allies say he would rather see early parliamentary election before new coalition is formed, many expect him to prefer to forge new pact with Livni. Barak, a former military chief who was prime minister 1999-2001, is not a member of parliament so he could not become prime minister again himself without winning a seat in a general election.
* BENJAMIN NETANYAHU. Prime minister from 1996-99 and leader of opposition Likud, Netanyahu favors an early parliamentary election that opinion polls show him as favorite to win. Netanyahu opposes Olmert’s U.S.-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians. Parliamentary election not due until 2010.
* SHAUL MOFAZ. Lost to Livni in Wednesday’s Kadima vote by just one percentage point. Iranian-born former defence chief and now transport minister may eye more senior post, possibly deputy prime minister, in a Livni coalition. Known for tough crackdown on Palestinian uprising when military chief, Mofaz says Israel must negotiate from a position of strength. On economy, he says policy must ensure that poor share benefits of strong growth.
* ELI YISHAI. Political leader of the Jewish ultra-orthodox Shas movement, a fixture in successive coalitions including the present one, Yishai has demanded an increase in social benefits to the poor as a condition for joining a coalition led by Livni. Olmert deferred discussions on Jerusalem in talks with Palestinians after Shas threatened to bolt the government. Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yossef has final say on party decisions.