AFP - Benjamin Netanyahu, charged with forming the next Israeli government, is trying to woo centre-left Labour into his cabinet after the centrist Kadima rejected his entreaties, media said Monday.
Netanyahu, a hawkish former premier and leader of the Likud party, met Labour leader and outgoing Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday in his latest efforts to try to form a broad-based government.
"We decided to continue talking to each other," Netanyahu was quoted as saying by the Ynet news website.
Barak is widely believed by the local media to want to join Netanyahu's cabinet in order to hold on to the defence portfolio.
But the move is opposed by the vast majority of his party, which suffered its worst ever showing in the February 10 election, winning just 13 seats in the 120-member parliament.
"This time Barak did not state, as he has a number of times previously since the election, that he will be in the opposition," the Haaretz newspaper reported.
"Sources in the political arena say that Barak would gladly join Netanyahu's government, if he could, but that he is aware of what his party would do to him," Ynet added.
"It is quite possible that he is looking for the public opinion's support, which would push him into the government," it wrote.
Netanyahu can in theory form a coalition with parties to the right of his Likud, but is widely believed to want a broader grouping that will have a better chance of lasting the notoriously tumultuous world of Israeli politics.
On Friday he failed to convince the leader of the centrist Kadima party, outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, to join his government.
Kadima won 28 seats in the new parliament, one more than Likud, but Netanyahu has been charged with forming the next government because he is believed to have a better chance of cobbling together a coaliton of at least 61 MPs.
Without Kadima or Labour, Netanyahu can in theory have the support of 65 MPs, including his Likud with 27, ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu with 15, ultra-Orthodox Shas with 11 and 12 coming from other religious and right-wing parties.
Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the secular Yisrael Beitenu, was to meet on Monday with the leaders of the four other religious parties in order to smooth over differences between them.
Lieberman's demand for passage of a civil marriage law is fiercely opposed by religious parties.
Netanyahu, who became Israel's youngest prime minister in 1996, has until April 3 to cobble together a coalition.