Benjamin Netanyahu on stage

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Analysts are predicting weeks of political horse-trading to form a new cabinet

Coalition talks are set to begin in Israel after general election results predicted right-wing and centre-left blocs tied on 60 seats each.

President Shimon Peres is expected to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attempt to form a new government.

His Likud-Beitenu alliance lost a quarter of its seats in parliament, but remains the largest grouping with 31.

He has offered to work with the newly-formed Yesh Atid party, which shocked observers by coming second with 19.

However, its leader, popular former TV presenter Yair Lapid, has demanded reform of a law under which ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students can defer their military service. Religious parties in the current governing coalition are strongly opposed to any changes.

Mr Lapid has also said he would only join a government that was committed to revive the peace process with the Palestinians, which has stalled since Mr Netanyahu took office.

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Any champagne that Mr Netanyahu may be tempted to open will be feeling a little flat”

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On Wednesday morning, Israeli media reported that with 99.8% of votes counted, the joint electoral list of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is our Home) party of his former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had won 31 seats.

That would be 11 seats fewer than the two parties’ combined total from the last election and below the forecasts of recent polls.

The ultra-nationalist Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home), which rejects the notion of an independent Palestinian state, won 11 seats, as did the ultra-Orthodox religious Shas party.

The smaller ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party won seven, bringing the right-wing bloc’s total to 60 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

Yesh Atid (There is a Future), a secular centrist party which was only set up by Mr Lapid last year, had been expected by pollsters to win about 12 seats, but is set to get 19, just ahead of the Labour party with 15.

The centrist Hatnua (The Movement) grouping of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won six seats, as did the left-wing Meretz party. Kadima, which was the largest party in the last parliament, got just two.

The remaining 12 of the left-wing bloc’s 60 seats went to Arab Israeli parties, but they are traditionally neither are asked nor seek to join governing coalitions.

The BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Tel Aviv says coalition building in these circumstances will not be easy for Mr Netanyahu.

The prime minister will need the support of Mr Lapid, who wants to cut the privileges enjoyed by ultra-Orthodox Jews – about 10% of Israel’s population – but also the parties which have traditionally defended those privileges, our correspondent adds.

‘Five principles’

Addressing Likud supporters after preliminary results gave the right-wing bloc a one-seat parliamentary majority, Mr Netanyahu promised to form as “as broad a government as possible”.

“It is an opportunity to make changes that the citizens of Israel wish upon themselves and that will serve all the citizens of Israel,” he said.

Yair Lapid

Yair Lapid celebrates (23 January 2013)

  • Former TV news anchor whose journalist father headed now defunct Shinui Party
  • Founded Yesh Atid in 2012
  • Secular centrist who says Orthodox Jews should share the social burden
  • Backs two-state solution and almost complete withdrawal of settlers from West Bank
  • Says prime minister should hold substantive peace talks with Palestinians

Mr Netanyahu added: “The new government will be based on five principles: The first is security. We will meet the security threats Israel faces, first and foremost is stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

“The second principle is fiscal responsibility… The third is political responsibility – we will strive to achieve true peace. The fourth is ensuring the equal distribution of burden in society; and the fifth is cutting the cost of living and housing prices.”

The third and fourth commitments appeared to be an appeal to Mr Lapid, who the prime minister also telephoned overnight. Mr Netanyahu was quoted by Likud as telling him: “We have the opportunity to do great things together.”

However, Labour party leader Shelly Yachimovich said she had also initiated contacts aimed at forming a centre-left governing coalition.

“We have an opportunity here that we cannot miss to liberate the citizens of Israel from the abuse of the Netanyahu government. Since the fate of Israeli society is hanging in the balance, we must act quickly, discretely and seriously,” she told supporters.

The leader of the largest party is usually asked by the president to form a government. They will be given 28 days to do so, although this can be extended by a further 14 days.

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Israel coalition talks to begin – BBC News
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