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Israeli polls cast ex-TV news anchor as kingmaker
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 24 - 01 - 2013

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israel's election has put a suave former TV news anchor and political novice in the role of kingmaker, and he has signaled he will use his power to try to move the next government to more centrist positions on Mideast peacemaking.
The results also surprised said Wednesday they were pleasantly surprised by The unexpected surge of moderate parties in Israel's election also “pleasantly surprised” Palestinian officials, but they doubted it's enough to change Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-line policies.
Netanyahu is likely to form the coalition as the head of the largest party, but that is not a certainty. A nearly complete vote count Wednesday showed a deadlock between Netanyahu's hawkish bloc and the center-left camp.
Netanyahu's future in office may depend on newcomer Yair Lapid.
Lapid's Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, emerged as the second-largest party, giving the 49-year-old former journalist unexpectedly strong leverage in coalition negotiations.
Lapid told cheering supporters that he wants a broad alliance of moderates, suggesting he would try to prod Netanyahu to abandon his traditional right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies.
That might be tough in Israel's cluttered political landscape of small parties with sharp ideological differences.
Veteran political commentators were left scratching their heads when trying to come up with scenarios for a stable Netanyahu-led coalition.
With 99.8 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beitenu electoral bloc won 31 seats in the 120-member parliament, remaining the largest party, but down from 42 in the 2009 election. Lapid's party won 19 seats, followed by 15 for the centrist Labor, 11 for the ultra-Orthodox Shas and 11 for the pro-settler Jewish Home.
Although the blocs appear evenly split, Netanyahu would likely get the first shot at trying to form a coalition government, because the center-left bloc draws 12 of its parliamentary seats from Arab parties that traditionally neither have been asked nor sought to join coalitions.
With the blocs tied, Netanyahu will need Lapid in any constellation.
Lapid has said little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling for a resumption of peace talks that were frozen during Netanyahu's term, but also insisting Israel keep war-won East Jerusalem. Palestinians claim the eastern sector for a future capital.
Palestinians noted with concern that Lapid wants Israel to keep East Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital.
“I am not going to say that now the chances of peace are going to be drastically improved or that we are going to see a sort of left-wing coalition and a peace camp that will take over and produce instant peace,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official, told reporters in Ramallah. — Agencies


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