, JERUSALEM, Feb 2 – Israeli President Shimon Peres was on Saturday expected to task Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a new government after two days of intense talks with parties elected to the new parliament.
On Thursday, Peres concluded the second day of back-to-back meetings with representatives of all 12 parties voted into Israel’s 19th Knesset in last month’s general election.
A statement from the president’s office said Peres would “announce the candidate who will be tasked with forming the government on Saturday night,” without naming a candidate.
But a simple breakdown of the representatives’ statements to the president over the course of the meetings shows that six parties, comprising 82 out of the total 120 parliament members, were in favour of Netanyahu continuing as premier.
Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu, the joint list uniting Netanyahu’s Likud party with the hardline nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, won 31 seats to make it the largest bloc in the upcoming Knesset.
Yair Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid won 19 seats in parliament, reiterated his support for Netanyahu during a Wednesday meeting with Peres, and his party now looks set to become the Likud-Beitenu’s senior coalition partner.
The far-right national religious Jewish Home, which under Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Naftali Bennett won 12 seats, also recommended Netanyahu and will also probably be part of his coalition.
Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas, which received 11 seats, and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), which won seven, also seek to join a Netanyahu coalition.
Both parties voiced their support for him, but Netanyahu might have difficulty seating them in a coalition 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 and barely scraped by with two this vote under former defence minister Shaul Mofaz, has also told Peres that Netanyahu is the most suitable candidate to form the 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 Mofaz, and later in 2012 announced her new movement.
Livni failed to galvanize the centre and centre-left to form a bloc that would defeat Netanyahu, but her party still won six seats.
In campaigning, Livni did not rule out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition.
But during her Thursday meeting with Peres, she did not recommend him as premier as he had not yet indicated if he would sufficiently pursue peace with the Palestinians, which Livni said was the cornerstone of her movement.
Informal talks on forming a viable governing coalition have been under way since the January 22 election, but the process can only begin in earnest after Peres makes his announcement, which is expected at 1800 GMT.
After the announcement, the nominee will have 28 days to put together a coalition.