Hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu became on Thursday, February 19, very close to achieving his dream of a premiership comeback after as far-rightist Avigdor Lieberman backed his bid to form the next government.
"We recommend Bibi Netanyahu, but only as part of a wider government," Lieberman told President Shimon Peres who was meeting parliamentary factions before deciding who will be tasked with forming a governing coalition.
"To govern the country, we need a government with the three largest parties, Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beitenu."
Lieberman’s party displaced Labour as the third largest parliamentary faction in last week’s elections.
Netanyahu can count on the support of 65 of the 120 members of parliament, but would have to rely on far-right parties.
Peres met 10 parliamentary factions on Thursday, a day after meeting representatives of the right-wing Likud and the ruling centrist Kadima.
Kadima had suggested a power-sharing deal with Netanyahu similar to the one Israel had in 1984 after another close ballot, when the two leading parties each held the post of prime minister for two years.
But Lieberman and Netanyahu have rejected a rotating premiership.
Kadima won 28 parliamentary seats in the election, just one more than Likud, but has far fewer potential coalition allies than its right-wing rival.
Under Israeli law, the task of forming a government does not automatically go to the party that secured the most votes but to the one most likely to form a majority coalition.
Peres is expected to make his decision on Sunday or Monday.
The person tasked to form a government will have 28 days to put together a coalition. If necessary Peres can extend the deadline by 14 days.
Lieberman, infamous for his anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian racist stances, stressed that peace was no priority for Israel.
"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a priority," he said in a speech expected to raise further concerns over the future of the already hobbled process.
"Our biggest threat comes from Iran, with its nuclear program and its proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah," he told a conference of US Jewish organizations.
Incumbent Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the Kadima leader, made it clear her party had no interest in joining a Likud-led coalition that includes Lieberman.
"Today, the bases of a far-right government led by Netanyahu have been set," she told Kadima members.
"We have not been elected to give legitimacy to this extreme right-wing government, and will head to the opposition."
Experts believe a Likud-led far-right government would throw a monkey wrench into US President Barack Obama’s drive to jumpstart the moribund Middle East peacemaking.
Kadima campaigned on election pledges to continue peace talks with the Palestinians, while Netanyahu stands further to the right and has opposed the negotiations.
"Kadima and I will continue on the track we have taken to push forward the peace process."
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)