Middle East

Yair Lapid 'rules out forming an anti-Netanyahu bloc'

Yair Lapid (23 January 2013)
Image caption Yair Lapid, a popular former TV presenter, set up his secular centrist Yesh Atid party only last year

Yair Lapid has said he will not join any bloc aimed at preventing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a new coalition government.

"The outcome of the election is clear: we must work together," he said.

Mr Lapid's newly-formed Yesh Atid party shocked observers by coming second with 19 seats in Tuesday's election.

Mr Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu alliance lost a quarter of its seats in the Knesset, but remains the largest grouping with 31.

Coalition talks have begun in Israel after near-complete general election results gave right-wing and centre-left blocs 60 seats each in parliament.

Mr Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday he would aim to form "as broad a coalition as possible".

"The Israeli public wants me to continue leading the country", he said.

The prime minister has offered to work with the newly-formed Yesh Atid party, a secular centrist party set up by Mr Lapid last year.

"I heard talk about establishing a preventative bloc - I want to take this option off the table," Mr Lapid said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

Mr Lapid said earlier that he would only join a government that was committed to reviving the peace process with the Palestinians.

He has also demanded reform of a law under which ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students can defer their military service. Religious parties in the current governing coalition are strongly opposed to any changes.

Although little-known abroad, Mr Lapid has already gained fame in Israel as a popular TV personality.

Pollsters had tipped his party to win about 12 seats. Instead Yesh Atid came second, ahead of the Labour party which won 15.

Difficult task

Labour party leader Shelly Yachimovich earlier said she had initiated contacts aimed at forming a centre-left governing coalition.

"We have an opportunity here that we cannot miss to liberate the citizens of Israel from the abuse of the Netanyahu government. Since the fate of Israeli society is hanging in the balance, we must act quickly, discreetly and seriously," she added.

Observers say forming a new coalition government will not be an easy task for Mr Netanyahu.

On Wednesday morning, Israeli media reported that, with 99.8% of votes counted, the joint electoral list of Mr Netanyahu's Likud party and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is our Home) party of his former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had won 31 seats.

That would be 11 seats fewer than the two parties' combined total from the last election.

The ultra-nationalist Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home), which rejects the notion of an independent Palestinian state, won 11 seats, as did the ultra-Orthodox religious Shas party.

The smaller ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party won seven, bringing the right-wing bloc's total to 60 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

The centrist Hatnua (The Movement) grouping of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won six seats, as did the left-wing Meretz party. Kadima, which was the largest party in the last parliament, got just two.

The remaining 12 of the left-wing bloc's 60 seats went to Arab Israeli parties, but they are traditionally neither asked nor seek to join governing coalitions.

Addressing Likud supporters after preliminary results gave the right-wing bloc a one-seat parliamentary majority, Mr Netanyahu said he would base a new government on five principles:

  • security
  • fiscal responsibility
  • political responsibility
  • ensuring the equal distribution of burden in society
  • cutting the cost of living and housing prices
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Media captionAnalysts are predicting weeks of political horse-trading to form a new cabinet

The third and fourth commitments appeared to be an appeal to Mr Lapid, whom the prime minister telephoned after polls had closed. Mr Netanyahu was quoted by Likud as telling him: "We have the opportunity to do great things together."

Meanwhile a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) said the election result was unlikely to produce an Israeli government more committed to negotiating a permanent peace agreement.

"I don't see a peace coalition or a peace camp emerging now and revitalising itself," Hanan Ashrawi told reporters in Ramallah.

The leader of the largest party is usually asked by the president to form a government once the election commission submits the official results, which is expected to happen next Wednesday. They will be given 28 days to do so, although this can be extended by a further 14 days.

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