Mon, Mar 23, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Israeli president opens talks on coalition

UNVEILED WARNING:Barack Obama said he had ‘indicated’ to Israel that Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of the nation’s traditions

AFP, JERUSALEM and WASHINGTON

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin yesterday began consultations with representatives of parties elected to parliament last week to hear who they would recommend as prime minister.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party scored an unexpected election victory on Tuesday, taking 30 of the parliament’s 120 seats, compared with 24 for its closest challenger, the center-left Zionist Union.

In Israel, it is not necessarily the leader of the largest party who forms the next government and becomes the prime minister, but the one who can form a working coalition, preferably with a majority of at least 61 — in this case, Netanyahu.

Although the election results were out on Thursday, the official numbers will only be published on Wednesday, when the Central Elections Committee will hand them to Rivlin who will then have to announce who he is choosing to form the next government.

Rivlin was to meet first with Likud representatives, followed by those of the Zionist Union headed by Isaac Herzog, who has ruled out joining a government of national unity and said he will take the list into opposition.

He will then meet with representatives of the Joint List, which groups the main Arab parties and came third in the vote, winning 13 seats, spokesman Jason Pearlman said.

Technically, Rivlin has seven days after receiving the results to make his decision, but Pearlman said he wanted to start the consultations “as soon as possible” in order to ensure a new government is quickly in place.

“He cannot name a candidate to form the next government before Wednesday,” he said.

Netanyahu wants to put together a narrow coalition of rightwing and religious parties which would have a 67-seat majority. The coalition would include Likud (30), the far-right Jewish Home (eight), the anti-Arab Yisrael Beitenu (six), the Orthodox parties Shas (seven) and United Torah Judaism (six), and the newly formed center-right Kulanu party of Likud defector Moshe Kahlon (10).

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama criticized Netanyahu over his warning that Arab Israeli voters would vote “in droves.”

In his first public comments about last week’s elections, Obama told The Huffington Post he had “indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions.”

The White House had previously said that Obama had warned Netanyahu on Thursday that his last-minute campaign pledge to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state and his comments about Israeli Arab voters would force a rethink in Washington.

“Although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly,” Obama said.

“And I think that that is what’s best about Israeli democracy. If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state, but it also I think starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country,” he said.

The interview, which took place on Friday, was published in full on Saturday.

Obama also criticized the Israeli leader’s tough stance on the Palestinians after his election win, saying the US is “evaluating” options for peace in the region.

“We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region,” Obama said.

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