News / Middle East

Tortuous Coalition Talks May Force Israelis Back to Polls

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, during their joint statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, February 19, 2013.Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, during their joint statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, February 19, 2013.
x
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, during their joint statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, February 19, 2013.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, during their joint statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, February 19, 2013.
Reuters
The slow pace of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition building, held up by disputes over state benefits for ultra-Orthodox Jews, has raised speculation that Israel may be forced into a new election.

Netanyahu's right-wing Likud-Beitenu ticket won 31 seats in an election on January 22, more than any other party, but far short of a majority in the 120-member parliament.

President Shimon Peres asked Netanyahu to form a government for what would be his third term in office.

After weeks of negotiating with political rivals, however, Netanyahu so far has reached a deal with just one other party, the centrist Hatnuah led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, which brings six seats to his coalition.

Closing window

Netanyahu has until early March to find enough partners to form a government, but can ask for a single, two-week extension. If he still has not secured a majority after that, Peres could hand the job to another party leader, but if no government emerged, Israelis would have to go to the polls again.

Yossi Verter, a political commentator for the left-wing daily Haaretz, wrote on Friday that the coalition talks appeared particularly fraught.

"As the days go by and the clock ticks toward the end of the mandate, the emotions, paranoia, hate and passions are just intensified. Usually in processes such as this, time heals, enmities calm, understandings come about, differences are resolved and trust is built. Not this time," he wrote.

A main sticking point in negotiations, party officials have said, is the future of state stipends for ultra-Orthodox Jews and military exemptions now granted to Jewish seminary students.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties, powerful political players for decades, took a hit in the election from the rise of new centrist party Yesh Atid, which wants to end those perks.

Incompatible partners?

Yesh Atid [There is a Future], headed by former TV star Yair Lapid, is the second largest party. It has formed an alliance with Bayit Yehudi [Jewish Home], a large pro-settler party headed by high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett.

Both have many newcomers to Israeli politics in their ranks, which was part of their allure to voters.

Political commentators say Netanyahu wants ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition, which probably would exclude Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi, whose policies the ultra-Orthodox reject.

"Netanyahu does not want either of them in his government. Not Bennett and not Lapid. This is a mistake, because that would be the government that most of the Israeli public wants," Verter wrote.

The last time a party leader charged with forming a government came up short was in 2008, after then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned. Peres gave Livni the task, but she failed, leading to the election that brought Netanyahu to power.

Two opinion polls in the past two days forecast losses for Netanyahu and gains for Yesh Atid if a new election were to be held.

A poll in the newspaper, Maariv, showed Likud-Beitenu dropping to 28 seats, while Yesh Atid would surge from 19 to 24. A survey released by a parliament television station showed Yesh Atid actually overtaking Likud-Beitenu with 30 seats to its 22.

"If he wants to avoid another election, Netanyahu will have to compromise about having Lapid and Bennett join the government," Maariv's political commentator Shalom Yerushalmi wrote on Friday.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs