Sun, Feb 22, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Netanyahu tasked with forming government

AFP , JERUSALEM

Israeli President Shimon Peres, right, hands a letter of appointment to Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to form the country’s next ruling coalition during their meeting at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

Hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was tasked on Friday with forming a new Israeli government, fueling concerns that a right-wing coalition could torpedo the Middle East peace process.

Accepting the nomination from Israeli President Shimon Peres, the former prime minister named Iran as the main threat to Israel’s existence and made no direct reference to peace talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu is pushing for a broad coalition, evidently keen to avert a repeat of the situation in 1999, when his government collapsed following the defection of far-right parties that accused him of making concessions to Palestinians.

Outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni emerged from talks with Peres saying she would have nothing to do with a right-wing coalition.

Livni said: “I will not be a pawn in a government that would be against our ideals.”

Israel needs “a government based on a two-state solution” for Palestinians and Israel, Livni said.

But Netanyahu did not give up on his hopes and invited Livni for talks today.

“I turn to the Kadima and Labour leaders: Let us close ranks and act together,” he said. “I want to meet you first and discuss the formation of a broad government coalition.”

Netanyahu did not directly mention Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and made no mention of the US-backed two-state solution, focusing instead on what he said was the threat from Iran.

“Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence,” he said. “The responsibility we face is to achieve security for our country, peace with our neighbors and unity among us.”

Reacting to the nomination, the Palestinian Authority said it would only deal with the new Israeli government if it is committed to the peace process.

“We will not deal with the Israeli government unless it accepts a two-state solution and accepts to halt settlements and to respect past accords,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

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