A CHASTENED Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured) has begun efforts to cobble together a coalition agreement after an election setback that left him dependent on support from a centrist party that favours peace talks with Palestinians.
The Israeli prime minister was clinging to power after his Likud Beiteinu bloc lost 11 Knesset seats but which marked the meteoric rise of the Yesh Atid (There Is A Future) party, despite being formed only a year ago.
The result positioned Yesh Atid's leader, Yair Lapid, to exact a price for joining a coalition led by Mr Netanyahu. There was speculation last night that he could be offered a role as foreign or finance minister.
Mr Lapid, a former celebrity journalist, ran on a secularist platform that stressed socio-economic issues and the need for the country's ultra-Orthodox community to serve in the army.
But he has also said he would not join a government that refused to negotiate with the Palestinians, a stipulation that could force Mr Netanyahu to bow to Western pressure to make concessions to restart the peace process.
Mr Netanyahu signalled his wish to form a "broad-based government" with Mr Lapid as results emerged. "We have the opportunity to do great things together," he said.
Mr Lapid told supporters he was ready to join a "moderate" coalition, saying his success showed Israelis rejected "the politics of fear and hatred".
"I call on the leaders of the political establishment to work with me together, to the best of their ability, to form as broad a government as possible that will contain moderate forces from the Left and Right so that we will truly be able to bring about real change," he said.
Reaching an agreement on a coalition has been complicated by an even split between the Left and Right, with parties from each bloc winning 60 of the Knesset's 120 seats. Palestinian officials, meanwhile, were sceptical that Mr Lapid's success could herald a new government keen on renewed talks.
"It's going to be extremely difficult, particularly given that if Netanyahu joins with the so-called moderate parties, this will make him more palatable to the rest of the world." (© Daily Telegraph, London)