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Political Coalition Building Begins in Israel Following Election


Israel's president says he will consult with political parties in Israel about forming a new government, following parliament elections on Tuesday. Israel's Kadima Party will lead the government, although with a smaller number of seats than expected.

It is up to Israeli President Moshe Katsav to ask the party that wins the largest number of seats to form the next government. Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party won 28 seats in Tuesday's vote. Behind-the-scenes coalition building has already begun.

President Katsav says the objective is stability.

Israel's president says Israelis want a government that can fill out its full four-year term.

Senior Kadima officials say they hope to have a government in place after the Jewish Passover holiday, which begins in about two weeks. Kadima's main coalition partner is expected to be the Labor Party, which won 20 seats.

After that however, Kadima will have to rely on smaller parties to achieve a majority with which it hopes to implement Ariel Sharon's and now Ehud Olmert's ambitious plan to draw Israel's final border with the Palestinians in the next four years.

Asher Arian a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a professor of political science at the City University of New York says Kadima's inability to achieve a large election mandate will hurt its chances of achieving its goals.

"Kadima is too small to be a driving force in Israeli politics for the next four years," he said. "Kadima will run the country, or will try and run the country, but it will be very very dependent on its coalition partners."

Among those coalition partners could be the Pensioners Party which astounded Israelis by coming out of nowhere to win seven seats, and the Shas Party which caters to Orthodox Jews of Middle Eastern descent which won the third most seats. In a further surprise, the once-dominant Likud Party, which Ariel Sharon left last year to form Kadima, was reduced to 11 seats - seen as a bitter defeat for party head and ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinians have reacted negatively to the election results. Incoming Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who refuses to recognize Israel, and is regarded by Israel and most international donors as the head of a terrorist organization says he sees no progress in the near future.

Haniyeh says if Israel does not recognize Palestinian rights and release prisoners there will be another cycle of violence in the region.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he believes the Israeli election will have no effect on the peace process unless Ehud Olmert changes his stated policy of keeping large settlement blocs, and demarcating Israel's new border along the lines of Israel's controversial separation barrier in the West Bank.