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Complicating Netanyahu’s quest for a workable coalition is the difficulty of reconciling the demands of a dozen factions in parliament, where those on the right hold a razor-thin edge.
Lapid, a former TV anchorman who only founded his Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party a year ago, seeks to end exemptions from military service for Israel’s 10 percent minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews who also receive generous state benefits.
Those privileges were extracted from successive governments by religious parties such as Shas and the United Torah Party in exchange for their backing. The two parties have a combined total of 18 seats in parliament, and Netanyahu is likely to want to include at least one of them for a broad-based coalition.
He may also turn to the hardline Jewish Home group led by his former protege Bennett, a millionaire software entrepreneur, which won a projected 12 seats. A Likud spokeswoman said Netanyahu called Bennett to congratulate him but did not reveal details of their conversation.
“Jewish Home can certainly be one of the desired partners in the new coalition,” Likud lawmaker Zeev Elkin told Israel Radio.
However, Bennett has denounced the idea of Palestinian statehood and advocates annexing swathes of the West Bank, putting him at odds with Lapid, who wants “divorce” talks with the Palestinians to end the decades-old Middle East conflict.
The Labour party, which came third with 15 seats after putting economic and social issues at the forefront of its campaign, not the Middle East peacemaking it once championed, has vowed not to join any Netanyahu-led coalition.
Once official results are announced on Jan. 30, President Shimon Peres will ask someone, almost certainly Netanyahu, to try to form a government, a process that may take several weeks.