Jerusalem, Feb. 3 – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is officially starting coalition negotiations Sunday, having been tasked by President Shimon Peres with forming a new government after his Likud-Beiteinu party emerged as the biggest winner in last month’s national election.
Accepting the task at a ceremony Saturday evening at Peres’ official residence, Netanyahu called in a televised speech for a national unity government that would include as many parties as possible in his next government, saying that peace is a central goal for Israel.
“The next government I form, Mr. President, will be committed to peace. I call from here to [Palestinian President] Abu Mazen to return to the negotiating table. Woe to each day that passes without us talking and seeking together a solution of peace for our two nations.”
The peace process is anticipated to be a major focus of international efforts with an expected visit to Israel later this month by new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Netanyahu also met last week with former UK prime minister Tony Blair, the international peace Quartet’s special envoy. At the same time UK Minister for Europe David Lidington said in a statement that his country “will emphasize the importance of a major effort on the peace process, and call for the EU to offer strong support for a U.S.-led push for progress in the coming months.”
Coalition Negotiations – What’s Next
Under Israel’s proportional representation electoral system the president customarily tasks the leader of the party with the largest number of seats to form a government in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Historically, no party in Israel has ever won 61 seats and coalition governments are the norm.
As expected after holding talks last week with all 12 parties that won seats Peres called on Netanyahu, whose Likud-Beiteinu party captured 31 seats with 23.3% of the popular vote.
Netanyahu now has up to 42 days to find coalition partners among the other 11 parties. His largest most probable partner is the new centrist Yesh Atid party that captured 19 seats. Netanyahu is expected to try and persuade as many parties as possible to join his government to make it stable for the long term.
Coalition negotiations for the next weeks will center on which parties get cabinet portfolios, and the types of legislation the parties will want enacted as a price for supporting the government.