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News

Netanyahu looks to form coalition after narrow win

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking to form a coalition government focusing on socio-economic reforms. The move follows his rightwing Likud party's setback in the parliamentary election.

Likud and its nationalist Israel Beiteinu coalition partner won 31 seats in the Knesset - 11 fewer than the 42 they had in the previous parliament, according to near final results.

The new centrist party Yesh Atid, led by former TV anchorman Yair Lapid, became the second largest in the Israeli parliament with 19 seats.

Final results are expected Thursday.

Although formal coalition talks are not scheduled to begin until later, the prime minister has already begun informal talks.

Likud and Yesh Atid

Netanyahu, 63, said the Israeli electorate had sent a "clear message."

"The Israeli public wants me … to put together a government which will include three big changes internally: a greater sharing of the burden [of military service], affordable housing and changes in the system of government," he said during brief remarks broadcast Wednesday afternoon.

In light of the election results, Netanyahu said he would try to form "a government which is as broad as possible." The prime minister told the rising centrist political star, Lapid, that "we have an opportunity to do great things for Israel."

Lapid also called for a broad government, which he said would "include moderate elements from the left and the right to bring about real change," and indicated Wednesday night he would cooperate in building a new coalition.

"I've heard talk of an [anti-Netanyahu] block," he said. "I suggest removing that from the table. There will not be a bloc; that will not happen."

Lapid said he was glad to be hearing the "prime minister take on board everything we have been saying for the past year about equality, and the need to protect the middle class and help it with housing and education."

"The outcome is clear: we must work together," Lapid said.

Other outcomes

The Labor Party, which won 15 seats, has ruled out a coalition with Netanyahu. Party leader Shelly Yachimovich said she would try to block the prime minister from forming the next government, but without the support of Lapid she is unlikely to do so.

The Movement party of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, which won six seats, would not rule out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition, but said it would insist on renewing peace talks with the Palestinians.

"A peace deal is an Israeli interest, and we will continue to wave that flag," Livni told a meeting of her party's members.

President Shimon Peres is next week scheduled to start a round of talks with the twelve parties elected to the Knesset, after which he will instruct the one with the best chance to form a viable coalition – almost certainly to be Netanyahu.

dr/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)