Israel's Peres to ask Netanyahu to form new coalition

JERUSALEM (AFP) - President Shimon Peres tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday with forming a new government after talks with parties elected to Israel's new parliament.

"I have decided to charge Benjamin Netanyahu with forming the government," Mr Peres said at a press conference in Jerusalem, after 82 of the 120 members of the Knesset had declared in favour of the premier.

"I hope that this task will soon be completed," Mr Peres said, as Mr Netanyahu, who has 28 days to put together a coalition, stood beside him. "Israel is in need of political and economic stability in order to be able to take necessary decisions on the serious subjects that are on the agenda," the president said. "These challenges are numerous, serious and urgent."

Mr Netanyahu reaffirmed what he said after the election - that his top priority was to "prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms." He also repeated that he would seek to form the "largest government possible," and called on opposition parties to join it. Formal coalition talks are to begin on Sunday.

Army radio said Mr Netanyahu would meet late morning with Yair Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party came second in the elections and who is expected to hold a key role in the new government.

It said he would then meet Naftali Bennett, whose far-right Jewish Home party is also expected to join the coalition.

On Thursday, Mr Peres concluded the second day of back-to-back meetings with representatives of all 12 parties elected to the Knesset last month.

Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu, the joint list uniting his Likud party with the hardline nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, won 31 seats to make it the largest bloc in the Knesset.

Yair Lapid reiterated his support for Netanyahu during a Wednesday meeting with Peres, and Jewish Home also recommended Mr Netanyahu.

Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) likewise seek to join a Netanyahu coalition.

Both parties voiced their support for him, but Mr Netanyahu might have difficulty seating them alongside Lapid, whose campaign stressed the need for a more equal "sharing of the burden." This is a euphemism for making more ultra-Orthodox Jews serve in the military, which is anathema to Shas-UTJ doctrine.

Centre-right Kadima, which in the outgoing Knesset had 28 seats but only won two under former defence minister Shaul Mofaz, has also told Mr Peres that Mr Netanyahu is the most suitable candidate to form a coalition.

Another potential coalition partner is HaTnuah, headed by Tzipi Livni. The former foreign minister left the Knesset last year after losing the leadership of Kadima to Mr Mofaz, and later in 2012 announced her new movement.

Ms Livni failed to galvanise the centre and centre-left to form a bloc that would defeat Netanyahu, but her party still won six seats. In campaigning, Ms Livni did not rule out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition.

But during her Thursday meeting with Mr Peres, she did not recommend him as premier as he had not yet indicated if he would sufficiently pursue peace with the Palestinians, which Ms Livni said was the cornerstone of her movement.

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