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Tortuous coalition talks may force Israelis back to polls
Published Friday 22/02/2013 19:28
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- The slow pace of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition building, held up by disputes over state benefits for ultra-Orthodox Jews, has raised speculation Israel may be forced into a new election.

Netanyahu's rightwing Likud-Beitenu ticket won 31 seats in an election on Jan. 22, more than any other party, but far short of a majority in the 120-member parliament.

President Shimon Peres asked Netanyahu to form a government for what would be his third term in office.

But after weeks of negotiating with political rivals, Netanyahu has so far reached a deal with just one other party, the centrist Hatnuah led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, which brings six seats to his coalition.

Netanyahu has until early March to find enough partners to form a government, but can ask for a single, two-week extension.

If he still has not secured a majority after that, Peres could hand the job to another party leader, but if no government emerged, Israelis would have to go to the polls again.

Yossi Verter, a political commentator for the left-wing daily Haaretz, wrote on Friday that the coalition talks appeared particularly fraught.

"As the days go by and the clock ticks toward the end of the mandate, the emotions, paranoia, hate and passions are just intensified. Usually in processes such as this, time heals, enmities calm, understandings come about, differences are resolved and trust is built. Not this time," he wrote.

A main sticking point in negotiations, party officials have said, is the future of state stipends for ultra-Orthodox Jews and military exemptions now granted to Jewish seminary students.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties, powerful political players for decades, took a hit in the election from the rise of new centrist party Yesh Atid, which wants to end those perks.

Incompatible partners

Yesh Atid (There is a Future), headed by former TV star Yair Lapid, is the second largest party. It has formed an alliance with Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), a large pro-settler party headed by hi-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett.

Both have many newcomers to Israeli politics in their ranks, which was part of their allure to voters.

Political commentators say Netanyahu wants ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition, which would probably exclude Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi, whose policies the ultra-Orthodox reject.

"Netanyahu does not want either of them in his government. Not Bennett and not Lapid. This is a mistake, because that would be the government that most of the Israeli public wants," Verter wrote.

The last time a party leader charged with forming a government came up short was in 2008, after then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned. Peres gave Livni the task, but she failed, leading to the election that brought Netanyahu to power.

Two opinion polls in the past two days forecast losses for Netanyahu and gains for Yesh Atid if a new election were held.

A poll in Maariv newspaper showed Likud-Beitenu dropping to 28 seats, while Yesh Atid would surge from 19 to 24. A survey released by a parliament television station showed Yesh Atid actually overtaking Likud-Beitenu with 30 seats to its 22.

"If he wants to avoid another election, Netanyahu will have to compromise about having Lapid and Bennett join the government," Maariv's political commentator Shalom Yerushalmi wrote on Friday.
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1 ) Israeli1 / Israel
23/02/2013 19:44
The coalition is obvious: Likud, Jewish Home, Yesh Atid, Kadima and you are done. If you want Livni, fine. Put her in. Center right coalition that could easily 1) draft Haredi 2) attend meaningless "peace" talks that never go anywhere 3) do what it takes to keep economy strong - that is the main thing 4) handle defense which is getting easier by the second, because Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon are either in civil war, close to civil war or disintegrating. We can cut spending there.

2 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/02/2013 20:40
To Israeli1 #1: 'handle defense which is getting easier by the second, because Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon are either in civil war, close to civil war or disintegrating...' You lack self-knowledge. The absence of a plausible external enemy is a threat to Israel, not a gift. Without an enemy to define yourselves, against, Israel lacks a sufficient basis for identity. Witness whatever happens when the 'threat' is allowed to subside. You need to whip it up, not let it dwindle.

3 ) Mel / USA
01/03/2013 16:28
I hear Christian Zionist preacher John Hagee wants to be PRIME MINISTER of Israel??LOL!!! He wants to"drag"all naughty,repentant,Jewish Israeli's on their knees to convert &"accept" his "1 God"? How about that BIBI?I mean you speak with HAGEE,first B4 you bomb people?Or talk to any US President?? What? The CFIC Zionists too GOY,for you despite their conditional 'LOVE' or MONEY? lol!Elect a 'Goys for Israel'party for this election!Show us your 'TRUE' colors dude!

4 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
01/03/2013 17:26
@ 2), No, you and others have blabbered this old theme time and time again but (obviously, since you don't live here and therefore rely on distorted media reports about our internal, feisty politics) you think we need external threats as a "glue," or "binding" in order to unify us, save us from ourselves and promote cohesive functioning. Bunch of camel crap and remember that. It may appear (visualize that in italics) to be like that but don't believe it for a second. Separately ... As (cont.)

5 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
01/03/2013 17:27
I've said before, we are ill-served by this European-style, coalition-type of national government and really need to kill it. What we are meant to have is a "Supreme Council" (Sanhedrin) composed of 70 carefully elected (or possibly appointed or chosen) individuals with rabbinical credentials and a system of lower or local legislative councils and courts together with our priesthood. In the meantime, we'll get through this like we always do; the sky is not going to fall on us.
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