Netanyahu wins support to enter Israel government formation talks

Coalition negotiations set to begin as majority of parliament backs PM to continue as leader, president says.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a period of coalition negotiations [Ronen Zvulun/Pool via The Associated Press]
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a period of coalition negotiations [Ronen Zvulun/Pool via The Associated Press]

    Israel's President Reuven Rivlin has said a majority of parliament members have backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new coalition government.

    Despite facing the prospect of being charged in three corruption cases, Netanyahu is set to embark on a record fifth term in office after the April 9 election.

    In Israel's political system, the president chooses whichever leader he believes has the best chance of forming a government after consultations with political parties. His choice will be officially announced on Wednesday, after which the picked politician will have up to 42 days to conclude coalition negotiations.

    Netanyahu "now has a majority of Knesset members" supporting him, Rivlin said on Tuesday in broadcast remarks. "Any room for manoeuvre has effectively been removed at this moment."

    The final vote tallies, published earlier in the day, showed that Netanyahu's Likud party won 35 seats in the parliament, the same number as its nearest rival, the Blue and White party, led by former military chief Benny Gantz.

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    But Netanyahu has the support of enough right-wing and religious parties to secure 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament. Forty-five members backed Gantz, while the 10 members of Arab parties did not recommend anyone.

    Netanyahu hailed a "sweet" and "historic" victory on Tuesday, pledging to work to unite society after a heated election campaign, during which he leaned on right-wing populist rhetoric that Palestinian citizens of Israel said amounted to demonisation.

    Turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel was reportedly around 50 percent, much lower than the 63 percent who voted in the previous election in 2015. On polling day, the Likud party sent activists with 1,200 body cameras to voting stations in Palestinian towns and villages.

    "I want all parts of Israeli society, Jews and non-Jews, to be part of the great success story called Israel," Netanyahu said.

    He also noted he was congratulated over his victory by a large number of world leaders, including "many" from Arab and Muslim countries, which he did not name.

    "I believe there is a great opening for the future here, a great opening for hope," he said.

    Coalition clash

    On Monday evening, Avigdor Lieberman, a former defence minister whose Yisrael Beitunu party has five seats that will be critical for Netanyahu, announced his support for the prime minister.

    However, he said he would only join the coalition if the government adopted a law that makes military service mandatory for Ultra-Orthodox Jews.

    Lieberman has warned that he would remain in opposition or be prepared to go to new elections if he did not receive assurances on the subject.

    Ultra-Orthodox Jews studying in religious seminaries are currently exempt from conscription and political leaders from the community have said they are not prepared to compromise with Lieberman.

    Ultra-Orthodox parties will control 16 seats in the next coalition government.

    In February, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu in three corruption cases. The prime minister has denied wrongdoing.

    While Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign if indicted, he will likely face pressure to step if the attorney general files fraud and bribery charges against him.

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    SOURCE: News agencies