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Middle east

President starts talks on future premier

Video by Carla WESTERHEIDE , Yuka ROYER

Latest update : 2009-02-19

Israeli President Shimon Peres is in talks with parliamentary leaders to determine who should be charged with forming a government after the centrist Kadima party of Tzipi Livni (pictured) won a Feb.10 poll with only the narrowest of margins.

AFP - Israeli President Shimon Peres was to begin consulting parliamentary leaders Wednesday before deciding whom to task with trying to form a new government after a tight general election.

Peres plans to get to work immediately after he is formally given the official results of the February 10 vote at 6.00 pm (1600 GMT), his office said.

"I am conscious of the serious difficulties that exist at this moment and I will do everything to allow the formation of a government that will best reflect the will of the voters and that will serve the country in stability and in a responsible fashion," Peres told public radio.

While Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima party won a razor-thin victory, pundits believe hawkish former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a better chance of building a majority in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

Right-wing parties made dramatic gains overall in the vote, which was held in the wake of Israel's deadly 22-day offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and was dominated by security concerns.

Under Israeli law, the task of forming a government does not automatically go to the party that garnered the most votes but to the one most likely to be able to form a majority coalition.

Kadima won 28 seats, just one more than Netanyahu's Likud, but has far fewer potential coalition allies than its right-wing rival.

Kadima has suggested a power-sharing deal with Netanyahu similar to the one Israel had in 1984 after another close ballot, when the two top parties each held the post of prime minister for two years.

That government was one of the longest-serving in Israeli history.

Netanyahu has so far rejected the rotating premiership option, but has made it clear he favours a broad coalition including Kadima, rather than an alliance with parties to the right of his own.

The overall shift to the right in the February 10 election has raised concern over the future of already hobbled peace talks with the Palestinians.

Livni, who has played a key role in the negotiations since they were relaunched with international backing in November 2007, said on Monday that Israel had no option but to continue the process.

The talks have remained stalled as Livni and her right-wing rival Netanyahu bid separately to form a workable governing coalition.

A narrow right-wing government would include parties opposed to withdrawing from the occupied Palestinian territories or dismantling Jewish settlements in any peace deal and would put Netanyahu at odds with the administration of US President Barack Obama, analysts said.

On Wednesday evening, Peres was to meet delegations from Kadima and Likud, and hopes to make his decision "Friday or Sunday," his spokeswoman Ayelet Frish said.

The person named will have 28 days to put together a coalition. If necessary Peres can extend the deadline by 14 days.

"If Peres reaches the conclusion that none of the candidates is capable of forming a government, he will summon the candidates for one-on-one talks," the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot said.

"In such a situation, it is reasonable to assume that Peres will call for a national unity government, and will play an active part in forming it and in persuading the leaders of the large parties," the newspaper said.

The parliamentary elections were called after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert handed in his resignation in September after being questioned by police over a series of graft scandals. He has stayed on as acting premier.

Date created : 2009-02-19