World Bulletin/News Desk
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday took on the job of forming a new government and said its most important task would be to ensure that Iran does not gain nuclear arms.
President Shimon Peres formally called on Netanyahu to assemble a new coalition following the Jan. 22 general election in which Netanyahu's rightist Likud-Beitenu emerged as the biggest party. It controls 31 seats in the 120-seat parliament.
"The paramount task of the government that I will form will be to stop Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said as he accepted the mandate from Peres.
Netanyahu also hinted at the security dangers posed by advanced Syrian weapons being transferred from Syria to Lebanese Hezbollah and its apparent chemical weapons arsenal, but he did not specifically name the country.
"We will also have to deal with other deadly weaponry that is being amassed around us and threatens our cities and our citizens," he added.
In his short acceptance speech, Netanyahu repeated his commitment to peace with the Palestinians and called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume talks with him.
"The next government that I will form will be committed to peace. I call on Abu Mazen (Abbas) to return to the negotiating table. Every day that passes without us talking to jointly find a way to create peace for our peoples is a day wasted," Netanyahu said.
Talks broke down in 2010 over Israel's continued settlement building. With Netanyahu set to ask a powerful pro-settler party to join him, and many in his own party also partial to settlers, he is sure to face strong internal opposition.
Last week Peres consulted with representatives from the 12 parties elected to parliament, the Knesset, and factions that control 82 seats recommended that Netanyahu should be asked to form a government.
Coalition-building talks will begin on Sunday in Tel Aviv, although initially, at least, Netanyahu will not be involved directly. He has appointed his party ally and former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to lead the Likud-Beitenu team.
Likud-Beitenu took a battering at the ballot box and won 11 fewer seats than it had going into the election, meaning Netanyahu may have to be more considerate of his partners.
His administration is expected to be cobbled together from a new centrist party headed by former TV personality Yair Lapid, which with 19 seats is the second-largest party, the 12-seat far-right pro-settler Bayit Yehudi ("Jewish Home") faction and other centrist and religious parties.
Lapid, a political novice, leads the "Yesh Atid" (There is a Future) party and none of its members has prior parliamentary experience -- one of the selling points that attracted voters.
He campaigned on a ticket of an "equal sharing of the burden" and helping the middle class, especially with housing and education.
"Equal sharing" is political code for meeting the complaints of secular tax-payers about the concessions given to the ultra-Orthodox, whose men study in Jewish seminaries, often on state stipends, and who are not drafted into the army.
Netanyahu committed to follow Lapid's lead, although he did not say how he would square the circle. Ultra-Orthodox parties have for decades successfully resisted mass conscription of 18-year-old men and have vowed to continue to do so.
"We are committed to increase significantly an equal share of the burden and I am convinced that we can do this in a responsible manner that can bring a basic change without tearing the nation apart," he said.
The two Ultra-Orthodox parties in Parliament who have 18 seats between them supported Netanyahu for prime minister. They are seen as favouring joining the coalition if they can find a compromise with Lapid's demands.
Israeli coalition-building can be a laborious process and Netanyahu may require the full 28 days before announcing success but he can ask Peres for 14 more days to complete the task, if needed.Last Mod: 03 Şubat 2013, 09:05