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Netanyahu Likely to Form New Israeli Coalition

Israeli election officials are continuing to tallying votes Thursday before announcing the final results of parliamentary elections. It appears more likely that Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next Israeli government.

Even though he came in a close second in the popular vote, analysts say it is likely that hawkish Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next Israeli government and become prime minister.

Right-wing parties control parliament and they back Mr. Netanyahu. The right has 65 seats in the 120-member Knesset, or parliament. The center-left, led by dovish Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, has 55 seats including seven for Arab parties. So among the Zionist parties, the right has a solid parliamentary majority.

"Israelis voted for change and they clearly gave a decisive victory to Netanyahu as the leader of the national camp," Ron Dermer, an advisor for Mr. Netanyahu. "Netanyahu can form a government very quickly."

Livni apparently won the popular vote but she is on course to become the first Israeli leader to "win" an election and fail to become prime minister.

But Knesset member Ze'ev Bielsky of Livni's Kadima party says she is not out yet because she defeated Mr. Netanyahu, who is nicknamed Bibi.

"Most of the people voted for Tzipi Livni, it was more personal elections as we all have seen, it was either Bibi or Tzipi, they voted Tzipi; so of course she's got the right to form a government and if it will be fruitful we'll have a government under Tzipi Livni," she said.

Israeli President Shimon Peres will meet with the various parties and then decide who to appoint to form a government, Mr. Netanyahu or Livni.

Mr. Netanyahu has the upper hand and he could try to form a rightist coalition or a more moderate national unity government with Livni's Kadima party. Either way, the right wing will have a strong say in the next government and that means trouble for the peace process. Mr. Netanyahu and his allies oppose the cornerstone of American Mideast policy: the creation of a Palestinian state.