Avigdor Lieberman, whose far-right party made major gains in Israel’s tight election, has decided to back hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in his bid to form a government, army radio said yesterday.
With Lieberman’s backing Netanyahu is virtually certain to be asked to form a government as he now can count on the support of 65 of the 120 members of parliament, the radio said.
Israeli President Shimon Peres was meeting party officials yesterday before deciding who will be tasked with forming a new government following last week’s election.
Both Netanyahu and centrist Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, laid claim to the premiership after Kadima won 28 seats in the 120-member parliament and Likud took 27 in the Feb. 10 election.
“We recommend Benjamin Netanyahu, only in the framework of a broad government,” Lieberman said at the start of his meeting with Peres.
“We want a government of the three biggest parties, Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu,” Lieberman said, inviting other factions to join.
Yisrael Beiteinu came in third in the national vote. With 15 seats in the legislature, its support is crucial in the formation of a majority government.
The party has stirred controversy by advocating trading land on which many of Israel’s Arab citizens live for West Bank Jewish settlements in a future peace deal with the Palestinians.
Peres was to finish consulting party leaders yesterday so he could make a quick decision on who to pick to try to establish a governing coalition.
“The president wants to speed up the process and finish it today,” a spokeswoman said.
She did not say when a final decision would be announced.
Peres met members of Kadima on Wednesday. He planned to consult yesterday with representatives from the remaining 10 parties voted into the 120-seat parliament.
Under Israeli law, Peres appoints a legislator to try to put together a government, and he or she has 42 days to complete the task.
Traditionally, after an election, past presidents have picked the leader of the party that won the most votes, but there is no legal obligation to do so.
Although Kadima took the most seats, Netanyahu seems to enjoy sufficient support from a large right-wing bloc to form a governing coalition.
In what appeared to be a blow to Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak whose left-wing Labor party came in fourth place in the election, said yesterday he would not recommend a candidate to form the next government.
“The picture is clear, and we are going to the opposition. In this reality, in my opinion, there is just one possibility, not to recommend any of the candidates for prime minister,” Barak said at a faction meeting.
Peres has until Feb. 25 to make his choice.