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Israel's Netanyahu faces elusive prospect of stable gov't
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14:40, February 21, 2009

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Israeli President Shimon Peres on Friday officially tasked right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu with forming the next cabinet, and expressed hope for a stable government in the politically fragmented nation.

Yet in light of the apathy of centrist and left-wing parties toward a rightists-dominated administration and the conflicts of interests between different right-wing parties, a stable government seems like a tall order for the prime minister-designate.

Netanyahu's center-right Likud party garnered 27 seats in the 120-seat parliament in the Feb. 10 general election, one seat less than the share of the centrist Kadima party, led by chairwoman Tzipi Livni. Yet the Likud-led right wing pocketed 65 seats in total, securing a slim edge over the Kadima-led center-left bloc.

By law, the president assigns the cabinet-making mission to the lawmaker who has the best chance of success. The task usually goes to the leader of the biggest parliamentary faction, but not always.

Following identical and decisive recommendations from the rightist parties, Peres finally sent Netanyahu on a return trip to the prime minister's office.

While few analysts doubt that Netanyahu would piece together a government, the outstanding question is what kind of government he will present: a narrow one with only his rightist allies or a broad one with Kadima on board.

"I call on the members of all the factions... to set politics aside and put the good of the nation at the center," said Netanyahu at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, while urging Kadima and the center-left Labor party to join his coalition.

However, both Livni and Labor chief Ehud Barak, two members of Israel's outgoing leadership troika, showed little interest. Since the inconclusive general election, the former had insisted that the public selected Kadima and she should be the one to form the next government.

"I will not be able to serve as a cover for a lack of direction. I want to lead Israel in a way I believe in, to advance a peace process based on two states for two peoples," said Livni after meeting with Peres.

Yet the current foreign minister did not shut the door tightly. She has hinted that she was ready to accept an agreement with Netanyahu on a rotating premiership, which might see each of the two be prime minister for half of the four-year term. However, to that option, Netanyahu has so far shut the door tightly.

As to the Labor party, which slipped to the fourth and its lowest position in the parliament, Barak and other senior members said that they would stay in the opposition and strengthen the decades-old party in order for a forceful return.

Without Kadima and Labor, Netanyahu would have to opt for a narrow coalition. The would-be premier is widely expected to succeed, as he has received support from the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which came in third in the election with 15 seats and became the potential king-maker.

However, such a rightward-leaning government would find its sustainability a daunting challenge. Apparently, with 55 centrist and left-wing lawmakers sitting in the opposition, the government would lack a convenient majority to carry out its policies.

Meanwhile, it remains a question whether Yisrael Beiteinu and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party would get along well in the coalition.

Shas' spiritual leader reportedly branded Yisrael Beiteinu party chief Avigdor Lieberman "Satan," as the latter's advocacy of civil marriage and eased conversion has put the party on the opposite side of the Orthodox Jewish establishment.

Another notable factor, wrote political columnist Akiva Eldar on local daily Ha'aretz, is that such an administration would embark on "a collision course" with Israel's staunch ally, the United States.

Right-wingers hold hardline stances on the already sluggish Israel-Palestinian peace process, while the U.S. administration, under new President Barack Obama, has vowed to break the impasse and press for a solution to the historical conflict.

Livni, who led Israel's negotiations during the past year, was widely seen as the best choice to revitalize the peace talks.

"It would be much more difficult for the right-wing, even with determined American leadership, to advance the peace process. Not impossible, but very difficult," Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, said earlier this week.

Should the alleged "collision" take place, it would be hard to predict how it would impact the Israeli public and the relations between the two countries.

Yet what can be predicted is that the chances that the Israeli government would benefit from such a scenario would be low.

Source: Xinhua

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