JERUSALEM — Hawkish politician Benjamin Netanyahu urged his centrist rivals to join him in a unity coalition after Israel's ceremonial president formally tapped him Friday to assemble Israel's next government.
Tzipi Livni, the moderate foreign minister also vying for Israel's top job, appeared to leave the door open Friday to teaming up with Netanyahu. However, her price for doing so may well be too high for Mr. Netanyahu: a rotation arrangement in which both she and Mr. Netanyahu would serve as prime minister.
President Shimon Peres' decision to tap Netanyahu ended days of speculation and gave Mr. Netanyahu six weeks to put together a ruling coalition.
The question now is whether Mr. Netanyahu will form a narrow government with his hard-line allies or a broad government along with Ms. Livni. His choice will have serious ramifications for Mideast peacemaking.
Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (2ndR) speaks to the media after her meeting with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem February 20, 2009. Peres met separately with rightist Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and centrist Kadima head Livni on Friday.
“I call on the members of all the factions ... to set politics aside and put the good of the nation at the centre,” Netanyahu said during a low-key ceremony at the president's residence in Jerusalem.
Mr. Netanyahu urged Ms. Livni of the governing Kadima Party and Defence Minister Ehud Barak of the Labour Party to join his government.
Mr. Peres had been meeting political leaders as he decided which candidate would be given the task of cobbling together a new coalition in the aftermath of Israel's national election last week.
Mr. Peres made his announcement early Friday afternoon after meeting with Mr. Netanyahu and Ms. Livni.
The choice of Mr. Netanyahu was cemented on Thursday when Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party, endorsed him.
Lieberman's party, which based its campaign on requiring Israel's Arab citizens to swear loyalty to the Jewish state or lose their citizenship, came in third place in the Feb. 10 election, after Kadima and Mr. Netanyahu's Likud. That essentially allowed him to determine whether Mr. Netanyahu or Ms. Livni would be able to muster the backing of a majority in parliament.
Kadima edged out Likud in the election, capturing 28 seats to Likud's 27. But Likud is in a better position to put together a coalition because of gains by Mr. Lieberman and other hard-line parties.