JERUSALEM -- After being officially asked to form Israel’s next government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday said he would try to put together as broad a coalition as possible to cope with the country’s domestic and international challenges.
Netanyahu won the endorsement of 82 newly elected lawmakers to form a coalition government following the Jan. 22 election. In accordance with Israeli law, he will have the next three weeks to put together a majority coalition in the 120-member parliament.
The prime minister said his top priorities would be confronting Iran’s nuclear development program, which Western governments believed is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, and restarting Palestinian peace talks. He also faces a $10-billion budget deficit.
Though Netanyahu did not mention Israel’s airstrike last week against a Syrian weapons convoy near Damascus, he cited the challenges of the region’s instability.
“We will also have to deal with other lethal weapons which are building up in our area and with threats against our cities and our citizens,” he said.
Even before Israel President Shimon Peres formally gave Netanyahu the task of putting together a government, coalition talks have been underway. Netanyahu is expected to partner with centrist Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party won 19 seats.
Combined with Likud’s 20 seats and nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu’s 11 seats, that would give Netanyahu 50 seats.
For the remainder he is considering including the ultra-Orthodox parties, the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home and the centrist Kadima.
The left-leaning Labor Party, which won 15 seats, vowed it would boycott Netanyahu’s government.
Forming a large coalition that includes all those parties will be difficult because they have key differences in policy and ideology.
Lapid, for example, is pushing for a military draft of religious students, something the ultra-Orthdox parties oppose. The pro-settlement Jewish Home party has said peace talks with Palestinians are a waste of time and calls for the annexation of parts of the West Bank.
Lapid and Kadima, on the other hand, say restarting peace talks is vital.