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Peres to begin talks on new Israel government

world Updated: Feb 18, 2009 11:50 IST

Israeli President Shimon Peres was set to begin consulting parliamentary leaders on Wednesday before deciding who to task with trying to form a new government after a tight general election.

Peres plans to get to work immediately after he is formally given the official results of the February 10 vote at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT), his office said.

While Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima party won a razor thin victory, pundits believe hawkish former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a better chance of building a majority in the 120 seat parliament, the Knesset.

Right wing parties made dramatic gains overall in the vote, which was held in the wake of Israel's deadly 22 day offensive on the Hamas ruled Gaza Strip and was dominated by security concerns.

Under Israeli law, the task of forming a government does not automatically go to the party that garnered the most votes but the one most likely to be able to form a majority coalition.

Kadima won 28 seats, just one more than Likud, but has far fewer potential coalition allies than its right wing rival.

Peres insisted he would reach a decision only after hearing the positions of all the parliamentary parties during the consultations to be held at his residence.

"I intend to consider public sentiment and the outcome of the elections, and to decide only after consulting with all of the Knesset factions," he said while touring a school in the city of Beersheva on Monday.

Kadima called on Sunday for a power sharing deal with Netanyahu.

"A rotation is the minimum that Kadima can demand so that a stable government sees the light of day," said Avi Dichter, a Kadima member and public security minister in the outgoing government.

He was referring to a power sharing arrangement Israel had in 1984 after another close ballot, when the two top parties each held the post of prime minister for two years.

Netanyahu has so far rejected the rotating premiership option, but has made it clear he favours a broad coalition including Kadima, rather than an alliance with parties to the right of his own.

The overall shift to the right in the February 10 election has raised concern over the future of already hobbled peace talks with the Palestinians.

Livni, who has played a key role in the negotiations since they were relaunched with international backing in November 2007, said on Monday that Israel had no option but to continue the process.

The talks have remained stalled as Livni and her right wing rival Netanyahu bid separately to form a workable governing coalition.

A narrow right wing government would include parties opposed to withdrawing from the occupied Palestinian territories or dismantling Jewish settlements in any peace deal and would put Netanyahu at odds with the administration of US President Barack Obama, analysts say.

If the president does, as is widely expected, ask Netanyahu to form a government, it will be the first time in Israeli history the task does not go to the leader of the party that won the most votes.

Once he receives the official electoral results, Peres has seven days to entrust the task of forming the next government to a member of parliament.