JERUSALEM // The right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu will be asked to form the next Israeli government, the office of President Shimon Peres said in a statement today. The announcement comes 10 days after a parliamentary election provided no clear winner. The Likud party chief was due to meet the head of state to receive a formal invitation to head the next administration, the statement said. Mr Netanyahu, who was prime minister in the 1990s, would then have six weeks to forge a coalition cabinet.
Mr Peres met separately earlier in the day with Mr Netanyahu and the centrist Kadima party head Tzipi Livni to try to persuade them to form a unity government, a presidential spokeswoman said. Both lay claim to the premiership after an inconclusive election on Feb 10 gave Kadima 28 seats in the 120-member parliament to 27 for Likud, but also handed a majority of seats to right-leaning parties. Ms Livni hinted after her meeting with Mr Peres that her position had not changed - she is not prepared to join a national unity coalition with the Likud leader unless she is prime minister.
It would be "a coalition that doesn't allow me to pursue my path, the path of Kadima as we promised the voters", she said. "A large government has no value if it does not have a path. The decision is now in the president's hands." Asked if she was ready to go into opposition she said: "If necessary, certainly". The strong showing for right-wing parties in parliament put Mr Netanyahu in a better position to form a government. But the Likud leader has said he prefers a governing coalition with centrist Kadima and the left-leaning Labour Party.