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Elections

Netanyahu woos centrists as final results are announced

Final results from Israel’s election have confirmed that despite losing seats Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc will remain the strongest force in the Knesset. Netanyahu has already begun talks with possible coalition partners.

The final results published on Thursday gave Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu list 31 seats in Israel's parliament, around 25 percent fewer than it had prior to Tuesday's election. The centrist Yesh Atid party finished second with 19 seats, followed by Labor with 15 and the far-right Jewish Home party with 12. Preliminary results had given Jewish Home just 11 seats. The United Arab List will send five members to the 120-seat Knesset, one fewer than preliminary figures had indicated.

Mindful of his bloc's reduced number of seats, Netanyahu has said he hopes to form a coalition that is “as broad as possible," his spokeswoman said in a statement. Although formal coalition negotiations have not yet started, Netanyahu held extensive talks with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Thursday.

"The meeting, which lasted two and a half hours, was conducted in a very good atmosphere. Netanyahu and Lapid discussed the challenges facing the country and ways to grapple with them. They agreed to meet again soon," the statement said.

Lapid said he was pleased that Netanyahu had embraced his party's campaign platform of “equal sharing of the burden,” which is understood as political code for reversing special privileges for ultra-Orthodox men, including exemption from military service to study in Jewish seminaries.

Although Lapid's Yesh Atid is thought to have drawn much of its support from members of the middle class who are frustrated by the privileges enjoyed by Orthodox Jews, ultra-Orthodox parties also saw their support increase, taking 18 seats, one more than they had in the previous Knesset.

The prime minister on Thursday also met with Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home and Zehaval Galon of the leftist Meretz party, which won six seats.

Although the results published by Israel's central election committee are final, they won't become official until they are presented to President Shimon Peres next week.

"We have to wait until Wednesday ... to have the formal results and only then I as the president will call on one of the members, I shall consult with the parties and listen to their advice, and then I shall call one of the parties to form a government," Peres told reporters in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum.

pfd/dr (Reuters, AFP)