- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu asked for two more weeks to form a new government Friday as he tries to broaden his support by persuading moderates to join.

With a month of coalition talks already behind him, Netanyahu can form a narrow alliance of hard-line parties. But he says he is hoping for a wider “unity” government that includes his more moderate rivals.

On Friday, Netanyahu met President Shimon Peres to request more time. Peres granted the request, giving Netanyahu until April 3.

“I could have presented a government to you and the people of Israel by Sunday, a good government, but I chose to ask for the extension to make every effort to form a unity government,” Netanyahu told Peres. He said a broad government was necessary to deal with the security and economic problems facing Israel.

Since being tapped by Peres to form Israel’s next government a month ago, Netanyahu has tried to persuade the centrist Kadima and Labor parties to join him in a broad coalition. Netanyahu’s Likud Party captured 27 seats, meaning it needs to bring in other partners to control a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

If no moderates join him, Netanyahu will be left with a slim coalition of hard-line and ultra-Orthodox parties. Such a coalition, with either 61 or 65 seats, would likely be unstable because junior partners would be able to bring down the government in any dispute. It would also be dominated by opponents to any significant concessions for a peace deal with the Palestinians, which could bring Israel into conflict with the international community and the Obama administration.

Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, has refused to join because Netanyahu won’t express support for the creation of a Palestinian state and because he rejected her demand to serve as prime minister for half of the government’s term.

But Netanyahu is still holding talks with the Labor Party, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Labor is slated to hold a meeting on Tuesday to vote on joining the government.

Labor, which served as the country’s ruling party for much of its history and was the movement behind the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians, lost support in the recent elections. In the Feb. 10 vote it was left with only 13 lawmakers. Barak favors joining the government, in which he would likely continue to serve as defense minister and other Labor lawmakers would be given ministerial positions.

But many Labor lawmakers oppose the move, saying it would be a betrayal of the party’s traditionally dovish values and could drive away more supporters. They charge Labor would serve as a fig leaf for a hard-line government and would have little impact on its policies.

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