Israeli war hawk Netanyahu asked to form government

February 21, 2009 - 0:0

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Likud party war hawk Benjamin Netanyahu was tasked on Friday with forming a new government, fuelling concerns that a right-wing coalition could torpedo the Middle East peace.

President Shimon Peres handed Netanyahu a letter formally asking him to form a new government in the wake of the tight February 10 elections.
Peres reached the decision after meeting separately with Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni of the centrist Kadima party in the hope of convincing them to form a broad government alliance.
Livni, the outgoing foreign minister emerged from the talks saying she would have nothing to do with a right-wing government.
“I will not be a pawn in a government that would be against our ideals,” she said.
“We need a government based on a two-state solution,” she added in reference to the concept of a viable Palestinian state being formed alongside Israel.
But Netanyahu did not give up on his hopes of forging a broad coalition.
“I turn to the Kadima and Labor leaders: let us close ranks and act together,” he said at the ceremony at the president's residence.
“I want to meet you first and discuss the formation of a broad government coalition,” he said.
In his brief speech, he did not directly mention Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and made no mention of the U.S.-backed two-state solution.
Reacting to the nomination, the Palestinian Authority said it will not deal with the new Israeli government if it is not committed to the peace process.
“We will not deal with the Israeli government unless it accepts a two-state solution and accepts to halt settlements and to respect past accords,” president Mahmud Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.
Netanyahu believes the time is not ripe to discuss the key issues raised in the peace negotiations, including the borders of a proposed Palestinian state, and wants the talks to focus on improving daily life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
He insists Jerusalem will remain Israel's undivided capital. Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed, to be the capital of their future state.
Netanyahu, 59, has also insisted he would not be tied by a recent pledge by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to withdraw settlers from the occupied Palestinian territory.
As premier from 1996 to 1999, he put the brakes on the peace process, in part by authorizing a major expansion of Jewish settlements.
But he also made more concessions than his hardline rhetoric had led Israelis to expect, and under U.S. pressure he concluded two agreements with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The far-right parties he is likely to include in his coalition, now that Livni has made it clear she would head to the opposition benches, have little interest in the peace talks.
While Likud, with 27 of the 120 parliamentary seats, has one seat less than Kadima, Netanyahu emerged as the only one able to rally sufficient support to form a government coalition.
Netanyahu can count on the support of 65 of the 120 members of parliament, but will have to rely on parties to the right of his own despite his stated preference for a broad coalition that would include Kadima.
“A narrow right-wing government is Netanyahu's default choice,” the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot newspaper said on Friday.
“He knows that such a government will not live out its term, and will become a 'paralysis government' that is dependent on small factions and sectarian parties,” the daily added.
Netanyahu will have 28 days to put together a coalition. If necessary Peres can extend the deadline by 14 days