Moderate party leads in final Israeli vote count
Published Thursday, February 12, 2009 12:34PM EST
JERUSALEM - Final results in Israel's election show the moderate Kadima Party has one more seat in the new parliament than Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish Likud.
Kadima won 28 and Likud 27 in the 120-seat parliament.
But the parliament has a majority among hard-line parties, making it easier for Netanyahu to form the next government and take over as prime minister. Netanyahu opposes talks on a peace treaty with the Palestinians. That could put him in conflict with the Obama administration.
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, who is the current foreign minister, is also trying to attract coalition partners.
One possibility is a joint government. Netanyahu would be prime minister, while Livni and her party would receive key government ministries.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli election officials were tallying soldiers' votes Thursday before announcing the final results of an inconclusive parliamentary election that could steer the direction of Mideast peacemaking.
The tens of thousands of votes could strengthen hawkish opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu's claim to victory if they shift the seat count in his favor. Netanyahu has said Israel's latest round of U.S.-backed peace talks with the Palestinians has been a waste of time.
Without the soldiers, the vote count gives a razor-thin edge to the governing centrist Kadima party, led by moderate Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who headed Israel's delegation to peace talks with Palestinians.
Ordinarily, the party that wins the most votes is tapped to form the government. Preliminary results from Tuesday's election gave Kadima 28 of the 120 seats versus Likud with 27.
But Netanyahu says he should cobble together the next coalition because Likud's allies among hawkish and Orthodox Jewish parties have a majority of 65 seats. In past elections, the soldiers' vote has shifted results by a seat or two, and if Likud benefits, that would undercut Livni's rival claim to victory.
The final vote is expected to be announced late Thursday.
President Shimon Peres will consult all 12 parties in the new parliament next week, and based on their preferences, will choose Netanyahu or Livni to try to form a government.
Neither Likud nor Kadima will control even a quarter of parliament's seats, so the two contenders began courting potential coalition partners Wednesday. It could take weeks of horsetrading before a new government is formed.
The power broker in all this jockeying appears to be the ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beitenu Party has become Israel's third largest with 15 seats.
Lieberman hopes to redraw Israel's borders to push areas with heavy concentrations of Arabs outside the Jewish state and under Palestinian jurisdiction. Those who remain would be forced to sign an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state, and anyone who refused would lose the right to vote or run for office.
Although he is unlikely to win support for that platform in a broader coalition, his presence would give the government a more hard-line edge.
Two likely coalition groupings have emerged from the election gridlock: a narrow coalition of hawks who would block the establishment of a Palestinian state and a power-sharing arrangement that would give Israel a more moderate face and greater international support.
Both Livni and Netanyahu have expressed interest in setting up broad-based governments. But neither has expressed enthusiasm for serving under the other.
The easiest option would be for Netanyahu to form a hawkish coalition. But such a coalition's resistance to making far-reaching territorial concessions to the Palestinians would put it into serious conflict with the new U.S. administration, which hopes to aggressively pursue a peace deal.
President Barack Obama called Peres on Wednesday to congratulate Israel on its democratic election -- and complimented him on a recent opinion piece reaffirming his commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state, the White House said.