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Netanyahu May Need Centrists For Coalition

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City after casting his ballot.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City after casting his ballot.
By RFE/RL
With almost all the votes counted from the January 22 general elections in Israel, it appears Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may need the support of a new centrist party to form a coalition government.

The alliance between Netanyahu's center-right Likud Party and the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman won 31 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, 11 less than they had after the 2009 elections, but the most of any bloc.

The centrist and secular Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party exceeded expectations and won 19 seats. Yesh Atid, formed only nine months ago by former television journalist Yair Lapid, will have the second-most seats in parliament.

Analysts say it's likely, though not certain, that Netanyahu will try to include Yesh Atid in a coalition government.

After voting closed, Netanyahu told supporters he would form a broad coalition. He also said making sure Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons will be a top priority.

His alliance partner, Lieberman, put a positive spin on the election outcome.

"I am happy that our two main goals have been achieved," Lieberman said. "The first goal -- to ensure the national camp continues to govern Israel. The second goal -- to ensure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secures an additional term."

Poor Ultranationalist Showing

Projected to finish third with 17 seats is the center-left Labor Party.

Its leader, Shelly Yahimovich, predicted Netanyahu "will not be able to form a government."

"There is a possibility, and I'll say it again -- I will do everything in power to ensure it's a success -- to form a social government which will start a peace process," Yahimovich said.

WATCH: AP's Aron Heller had this report from Tel Aviv as results came in on January 22.
Netanyahu Wins Narrow Victory In Israeli Electionsi
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January 23, 2013
Exit polls show that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party and his hard-line allies have won a narrow majority in parliamentary elections. But the centrist Yesh Atid party of political newcomer Yair Lapid made a surprise showing to become the second-largest party in parliament. The AP's Aron Heller had this report from Tel Aviv as results came in on January 22.

The ultranationalist Jewish Home faction appears to have done much worse than expected, forecast to win only 12 seats.

The party's leader, Naftali Bennett, who rejects establishing an independent state of Palestine, told supporters Israel belongs to the Jews.

"There are no two narratives. There no two 'truths.' There is one truth and that truth is very simple. Greater Israel belongs to the Jewish people," Bennett said.

The United States, Israel's closest ally, has not commented on the election.

However, Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Israeli Middle East expert, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that he expected relations between Israel and the United States to further cool. 

"It seems probable that Mr. Obama's emphasis on the peace process and Netanyahu’s refusal to leave the occupied lands could cause conflict between the two governments," Javedanfar said.

With reporting by  Reuters, AP, and AFP

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