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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid