Thu, Feb 12, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Livni, Netanyahu both claim victory in Israeli poll

AP , JERUSALEM

Inconclusive election results sent Israel into political limbo yesterday, with both Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming victory and leaving the kingmaker role to a rising political hawk with an anti-Arab platform.

Livni’s Kadima Party won 28 seats, just one more than Netanyahu’s Likud, in Tuesday’s election for the 120-member parliament, according to nearly complete results.

Without a clear majority, neither party can govern alone. Gains by hardline parties give Netanyahu a better chance of forming a coalition with his natural allies.

“Political Tangle,” read the headline on the front page of the daily Yediot Ahronot, alongside photos of the two smiling candidates.

The results set the stage for what could be weeks of coalition negotiations. Meetings began yesterday, with Netanyahu meeting the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas faction.

Two of the more likely options would see a hardline government led by Netanyahu, leaving Livni in the opposition, or some form of accommodation between the two in the form of a centrist coalition.

Whatever government is forged, it is unlikely to move quickly toward peace talks with the Palestinians.

Such paralysis could dampen prospects for Egyptian-led attempts to broker a truce between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers after Israel’s devastating offensive in Gaza last month. Hamas might be reluctant to sign a deal at the risk of having it overturned by the incoming coalition.

It’s up to Israeli President Shimon Peres to decide whether Livni or Netanyahu should have the first shot at forming a government.

Peres will meet next week with party leaders to hear their recommendations, and late next week expects to assign the task, presidential spokeswoman Ayelet Frisch said.

Once he makes his decision, the prime minister-designate has up to six weeks to form a government.

But the final word may be up to ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, perhaps Israel’s most divisive politician, whose rightist Yisrael Beiteinu emerged as the No. 3 faction with 15 seats.

Lieberman says he wants to redraw Israel’s borders to push out heavily Arab areas and require Arabs who remain to sign a loyalty oath or lose the right to vote.

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