Netanyahu to Form Israeli Government

Right-wing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu was named Friday, February 20, to form a new Israeli government, fueling concerns that a right-wing coalition would torpedo the Middle East peace process.

"The president has made a decision regarding the formation of the government and the presidency will summon deputy Benjamin Netanyahu at 14:15 (12:15 GMT) to entrust him with this task," President Shimon Peres’s office said, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The decision came after Peres met with the 12 parliamentary factions to hear their recommendations for the new premier.

Netanyahu immediately accepted the mandate to form the new government.

"I call on Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni and Labor party chairman Ehud Barak and I say to them – let’s unite to secure the future of the State of Israel," he said.

"I ask to meet with you first to discuss with you a broad national unity government for the good of the people and the state."

Likud won 27 parliamentary seats in the February 10 elections, one seat less than Kadima.

Netanyahu, who was prime minister in the 1990s, emerged as the only candidate able to rally sufficient support to form a government coalition.

The right-wing leader on Thursday won support from ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, which will have 15 MPs in the new parliament.

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.

Netanyahu will have 28 days to put together a coalition. If necessary the Israeli President can extend the deadline by 14 days.

Dim Peace Hopes

Kadima leader Livni rejected any coalition government under the Likud party.

"I will not be a pawn in a government that would be against our ideals," she said after the talks with Peres.

"Things are clear. What is being created is a government without political vision, a government with no values.

"We need a government based on a two-state solution," she said in reference to the slow-moving peace talks that envision a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The hawkish Netanyahu has vowed that if his party was elected there would be no Palestinian state.

The US-educated hawk, who had poor relations with the Clinton administration during his previous term as premier, also says that Israel’s unilateral ceding of the occupied Arab land has backfired, inspiring "Islamist" enemies.

Netanyahu advocates a longer-term, "bottom-up" approach to peace with the Palestinians built on economic development of the West Bank and a gradual handover to Palestinian security forces.

In remarks familiar from his campaign, Netanyahu repeated that he saw Israel facing a particular threat from Iran.

Like other Israeli leaders, he believes the Islamic Republic is using a nuclear energy program to develop atomic weapons that, he says, would pose a threat to Israel’s existence.

( and Agencies)

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