Israel: Netanyahu gets more time to form government

Netanyahu (left) shakes hands with Shimon Peres, who has given him more time to form a government.
Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, running out of time to form a coalition government, was granted a 14-day extension Friday by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Netanyahu has been negotiating with Labour Party leader Ehud Barak to try to broaden what would be a Likud-led coalition. The Labour Party is expected to meet on Tuesday to discuss Netanyahu’s offer and to vote on whether to join his government. Netanyahu was originally given six weeks to form a government. He has so far been unable to woo moderate parties, including Labour and Kadima, into his government packed with right-wing allies. If he can’t, Netanyahu may be forced to concede some key ministerial posts to nationalist Avigdor Lieberman’s party, which would be the second-largest faction in the coalition government behind Likud.

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Netanyahu has vowed to form a broad-based government, but it is unclear how he can keep that promise if he’s not able to bring Labour on board.

Kadima — the party of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — won the most seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in last month’s elections. But Kadima received only one more seat than Likud. With the surge of other right-wing parties, Netanyahu had enough seats to form a government. But he needed the cooperation of Labor or Kadima to fulfill his promise “to form a broad national unity government.” Tzipi Livni, Kadima’s leader, said, when rejecting Netanyahu’s invitation to join the government, that the main sticking point was his refusal to commit to negotiations with the Palestinians that would lead to a Palestinian state.