Final results have been announced in Israeli elections that took place
on Tuesday. But the tally has left Israel in political uncertainty.
In the final results, centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's Kadima party won 28 seats in Israel's 120-member Knesset or parliament. Benjamin Netanyahu's nationalistic Likud Party came in a close second with 27 seats.
Nevertheless, Ms. Livni could become the first winner of an Israeli election who could not form a government. The right wing led by Mr. Netanyahu controls the Knesset, so he is emerging as the likely candidate to form the next government and become prime minister.
With such a close outcome, both leaders were vying for President Shimon Peres to nominate them as prime minister, which he will do only after consulting with political party leaders next week. He has a week to designate someone from the moment final results are published in the official gazette on February 18.
Most observers believe if Mr. Netanyahu gets the nod, that could throw a wrench into U.S.-sponsored peace talks. Mr. Netanyahu and his allies oppose the cornerstone of American Mideast policy: the creation of a Palestinian state.
"Well, I think there's going to be a clash, I mean the clash is almost inevitable," said Israeli analyst Gadi Wolfsfeld. "I mean the United States is moving in one direction with Barack Obama and Israel's moving in the opposite direction with Bibi Netanyahu."
Mr. Netanyahu, who was educated in America and is a seasoned diplomat, wants to avoid that.
"Certainly I don't think anybody wants to ruin our relationship with the United States which is our greatest asset," said Wolfsfeld.
If he is nominated, Mr. Netanyahu faces a dilemma. He could form a right-wing government, but that would put him on a collision course with the United States. So he would rather form a moderate national unity government with Ms. Livni's Kadima Party. Mr. Netanyahu could then continue peace talks with the Palestinians, albeit more slowly. But many in Kadima say they won't join a government to be a fig leaf for Mr. Netanyahu.