Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night promised to establish “the widest possible national unity government” and urged even those political leaders who did not recommend him as prime minister to reconsider and join him.
Netanyahu spoke immediately after President Shimon Peres, at a ceremony at the President’s Residence, formally charged him with the task of forming the next government.
Netanyahu said the first priority of his new government would be thwarting Iran’s effort to attain nuclear weapons. He also pledged to seek peace, saying “every day that passes” without negotiations with the Palestinians was a day wasted, and urging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come back to the peace table.
Netanyahu, who was recommended as prime minister by 82 of the 120 incoming MKs, also pledged to try to heal many of Israel’s internal divides — on equality of military service, on easing economic burdens, and on electoral reform — “without tearing the nation apart.”
Netanyahu, noting that he would be starting his third term as prime minister — having held the post from 1996-99 as well as in the last four years — thanked the public and the MKs who backed him “for the faith you have placed in me” and said he saw the job as a privilege and an honor.
He said Israel had weathered the global financial crisis in large part because of the stable government he headed these past four years, but that the economic and security challenges in the region were actually becoming more grave. The dangers facing Israel were the worst it had faced for many years, he said.
Therefore, although his next government would tackle domestic challenges, Israel’s security would come first, and the top priority would be thwarting Iran’s nuclear weapons drive “and other threats to our nation and our citizens.”
Reaching out to potential coalition partners from the center and left, he pledged his government “will be committed to peace.” He appealed directly to Abbas “to come back to the negotiating table.”
On domestic matters, he vowed to create more jobs, equalize “the burden” — an apparent reference to drafting ultra-Orthodox Israelis – “without tearing our people apart,” cut the cost of living, and push for a more stable electoral system.
He then appealed for help from the various parties to build “a wide national unity government — as wide and stable as possible.” That imperative, he said, “is the demand of the hour… There is no room for dreams.”
Therefore, he called upon “even those who have announced that they won’t sit in the government to think again — to work together for the good of the people.”
Israel, he said, does not have “the luxury of being divided… So many outside forces are trying to divide us… We have to put marginal interests to the side.”
His goal, he said, would be to foster peace within and without, and ensure security for the nation. “It is in that spirit that I accept this mission,” he said. “I urge even those who didn’t recommend me to join the widest possible national unity government,” he repeated.
Peres, inviting Netanyahu to form a new coalition, said Israel “needs a new government as soon as possible.” He said that the party representatives with whom he met on Wednesday and Thursday had highlighted a number of issues for the new government to address urgently. These included tackling the deficit, bolstering social justice, fighting against racism, equalizing the burden on Israelis, dealing with service in the IDF, reviving peace efforts and facing Israel’s security challenges, Peres said.
He said he hoped the coalition negotiations would be completed quickly so that the new government could “roll up its sleeves” and get to work.
Netanyahu will have 28 days to complete the political wheeling and dealing needed to form a coalition. If he is unable to do so in the allotted time, the president can give him a 14-day extension.
The parties that recommended Netanyahu continue as prime minister were his own Likud-Beytenu (which won 31 seats in the January 22 elections), Yesh Atid (19 seats) Jewish Home (12 seats), Shas (11), United Torah Judaism (7) and Kadima (2) — for a total of 82 endorsements.
The prime minister’s call to Abbas to resume peace talks appeared designed in part to counter concerns in the centrist Yesh Atid over the issue, and perhaps to encourage Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua (6 seats) to contemplate joining the coalition. Labor (15) formally decided last week that it would not join the coalition. Meretz (6) has also ruled out joining the coalition, and Netanyahu would likely not wish to include the three largely Arab parties (11 seats), which in turn would likely not wish to join him.
The President’s Office had announced Thursday that Peres would hold off on officially launching coalition talks until Saturday night, as requested by the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party. Peres was originally scheduled to make the announcement on Friday morning.
The president completed talks with representatives of all the parties on Thursday evening.