Sha'ul Mofaz
Sha'ul Mofaz

The precise timetable is still somewhat unclear, but if President Shimon Peres does not ask Sha'ul Mofaz to try to form a new government, elections are expected in mid-February.

Kadima Leader Tzipi Livni, having failed in her attempt to form a coalition government, is expected to inform President Shimon Peres of her failure on Sunday - thus beginning the countdown to new national elections.

Peres has three days to decide whether to charge another Knesset Member with the responsibility of forming a new government, or to inform the Knesset that general elections must be held. 

The former option appears unlikely, but some political pundits are saying that if Peres were to choose Transportation Minister Sha'ul Mofaz - who lost to Livni in recent Kadima Party primaries for party leader - he might succeed in forming a new government without the need for new elections. This is because Shas is likely to be more inclined to join a Mofaz-led government than it was to accept Livni as head. Livni is much more likely to agree to a giveaway of the Old City and nearly all of Judea and Samaria, in an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, than is Mofaz.

Persons close to Mofaz have said that he himself would not initiate a move to have Peres choose him.

The more likely option is that Peres will inform Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, by Wednesday, that he sees no chance of forming a coalition without new elections.

Knesset Takes Over

In this case, the ball passes to the Knesset's court - for 21 days.  During this period, the legislature can either vote for another candidate to form a government, or choose a date for new elections.  To choose another candidate, 61 MKs must agree on his or her identity - an unlikely option. 

On the other hand, a date for new elections can be set by a regular majority. Though the Knesset can set elections for whenever it wants, even half a year from now, Israeli law expert Susie Navot says this would not be proper: "The law is that, unless the Knesset decides otherwise, elections must be held within 90 days - and this was done for a reason.  It is to avoid a situation in which a lame-duck government continues to govern without basic public support."

"If the Knesset chooses to schedule elections for five months from now, for instance" Navot told Army Radio, "it would be legal - but not proper."

Default: February 17

If, at the end of the 21 days, the Knesset has not chosen either of the above two options, elections are to be held 90 days from then - on or around February 17, the 23rd day of Shvat. This 90-day period cannot be changed by Knesset vote or by Presidential intervention.