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Netanyahu to Form New Government After Election Win


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will do everything in his power to ensure the "well-being and security" of all Israeli citizens.

Netanyahu made his comments on Wednesday at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a day after his conservative Likud party scored a resounding victory in Israel's parliamentary election.

With nearly all of the ballots counted, Likud captured 30 of the 120 seats in parliament, compared with 24 seats for its main challenger, the Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog. Exit polls on Tuesday had projected a tight race, with the two sides at 24 seats apiece.

Netanyahu said Wednesday he intends to form a government in the next two to three weeks, which would give him a fourth term as prime minister.

A statement from his office said he has already reached out to smaller parties in order to form the 61-seat coalition he needs to govern. One key will be Moshe Kahlon's centrist Kulanu party, which won 10 seats in Tuesday's vote. Kahlon is expected to be the next finance minister.

"The citizens of Israel expect us to quickly put together a leadership that will work for them regarding security, economy and society as we committed to do, and we will do so," Netanyahu said.

Israel Election Results, 99% votes counted, March 18, 2015
Israel Election Results, 99% votes counted, March 18, 2015

World reaction

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu to congratulate him on the victory, and that President Barack Obama will do so in the coming days.

The election was viewed closely regarding its impact on U.S.-Israeli relations. Differences on key issues, including the Iranian nuclear negotiations and stalled peace talks, have led to increased tensions between the two governments.

Earnest said unprecedented security cooperation between the United States and Israel will continue, and he voiced support for a two-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu said earlier this week he would never support a Palestinian state, reversing the position he had held during his administration as the two sides conducted peace talks that eventually broke down.

A U.N. spokesperson, speaking on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said it will be incumbent on the new Israeli government to create the conditions leading to a final peace deal with the Palestinians. He said Israel should take steps including a cessation of illegal settlement building on occupied Palestinian land.

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc is committed to working with the incoming Israeli government on a "mutually beneficial relationship" and on relaunching the Middle East peace process.

Meanwhile, Senior Palestinian Authority official Abdullah Abdullah expressed disappointment at the results.

"Unfortunately it looks that the Likud will form the next government, and that means the old policy will continue," Abdullah said. "Netanyahu was very clear in his last days of the campaign that he will never allow a Palestinian state, he will not withdraw one centimeter from the occupied Palestinian territories, Jerusalem will stay united as the capital of Israel and that means it closes all the options for peace negotiations."

The Palestinians are now likely to press ahead with their attempts to bring war crimes charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

Against Palestinian state

In an interview with VOA, Middle East expert Aaron David Miller said the victory of Netanyahu's Likud party does not mean the end for Middle East peace talks.

"The peace process will never die, it's like rock 'n' roll, it is essentially frozen," Miller said. "Whether or not the prime minister for campaign purposes or out of ideology walks back his commitment, I find much less consequential. Reportedly, he's made commitments privately which endorses this view. So which one is it, his public commitment, his private commitment?

"I suspect that in the next 20-plus months, there will be an effort at least to prevent matters from deteriorating, and that could involve some sort of effort on the part of the [U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry]," he said.

The election was widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who has governed for the past six years.

Netanyahu focused his campaign primarily on security issues, while his opponents pledged to address the high cost of living and housing crisis while accusing him of being out of touch.

Throughout the campaign, Netanyahu portrayed himself as the only politician capable of confronting Israel's numerous security challenges.

Avi Degani, president of the Geocartography polling institute, who had predicted an outright Likud victory, said ultimately Netanyahu's experience prevailed. "There was a situation where many people wanted to replace him but there was no one whom they wanted to replace him with," he said.

In a largely ceremonial move, President Reuven Rivlin will meet with all 10 parties that entered parliament. He will then task the leading candidate, almost certainly Netanyahu, with putting together a coalition that makes up a majority in parliament. Netanyahu will remain prime minister throughout the process.

Arab turnout

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said he congratulated Netanyahu in a phone call. Herzog signaled he would not join Netanyahu and that his party will continue working for the Israeli people as a member of the opposition.

"I think that at this moment what Israel needs most of all is another voice, a voice that offers an alternative and a voice that tells it the truth," he said outside his Tel Aviv home. "It must be clear that for the citizens of Israel, the challenges remain the same, the problems are the same. Nothing has changed."

Meanwhile, a union of four Arab-led parties, called the Joint List, is to become the third-largest party in parliament, having won 14 seats.

Analyst Mohammad Darawsche said the party raised Arab voter turnout from 57 percent two years ago to 70 percent Tuesday, almost the same level as Jewish turnout.

Darawsche said more than half of those elected are newcomers who advocate a new approach to governing.

"It's not just unity within the Arab community but trying to seek who to partner with in the Jewish community. That's new politics. That's a new agenda in the Arab community, simply because it's realizing that the old politics of just being able to represent the frustration and anger of the Arab community does not deliver," he said.

Some material for this report came from AP.