Domestic issues loom over Israel coalition talks
Israel's main political parties were set to begin intensive coalition talks yesterday, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally tasked with forming a new government after last month's election.
Netanyahu, whose right wing Likud-Beitenu list won a narrow victory with 31 of the Knesset's 120 seats, has 28 days to piece together a coalition government which will face a series of key domestic and foreign policy issues.
He said preventing a nuclear Iran would be the top priority, but the new administration would also have to deal with a surge in tension with Syria and renewed diplomatic pressure over the frozen peace process.
It will also face pressing domestic challenges, with a larger than forecast deficit paving the way for an austerity budget likely to ignite simmering public anger over the rising cost of living.
Netanyahu and his team was to meet Yesh Atid, the new centrist party headed by Yair Lapid, which stunned the political establishment by taking 19 seats and is expected to hold a key role in government.
They will then meet Naftali Bennett, whose far-right Jewish Home party won 12 seats, and later with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party (11 seats). Both parties are hoping to be part of the coalition. Talks are set to continue today with the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (seven seats), and the two centrist parties Hatnuah and Kadima, which won six and two seats respectively, but domestic issues are likely to create problems in the negotiations.
Another potential coalition partner is Hatnuah, headed by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who campaigned for the renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians.