PM: Election shows country still wants me at helm

After Likud Beytenu falls to 31 seats, PM calls for wide coalition; Source: PM hasn't called Bayit Yehudi's Bennett.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Pool / Haim Zach)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Pool / Haim Zach)
Despite suffering a significant setback at the polls, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday afternoon the elections show the country wants him to continue to lead the nation.
Netanyahu told reporters that the coalition he will put together will deal with greater equality in carrying the military burden, institute cheaper housing and government reform.
Netanyahu said that he agreed with his No. 2, Avigdor Liberman, that the coalition negotiations would deal with those issues, alongside the diplomatic/security issues.
He repeated his desire to set up the widest coalition as possible.
Having secured enough votes in Tuesday's elections to head the next government, Netanyahu at once embarked on late night outreach to the leaders of the parties he is eyeing as future coalition partners. In a post-midnight flurry, he called Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, Aryeh Deri and Eli Yishai of Shas, and Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism. A source close to Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu had not placed a call to Bennett as of Wednesday evening.
Click for full JPost coverage
Click for full JPost coverage
The calls came after Netanyahu made a point of mentioning Lapid in his victory speech at the Likud headquarters on Tuesday night. Likud Beytenu performed less well than even the damning opinion polls had suggested, shrinking from 42 seats in the last Knesset to just 31 in the next.
Conversely, Yesh Atid exceeded expectations, pulling in 19 seats to become the second largest party. Labor trailed third with 15 seats. Bayit Yehudi also underperformed on Tuesday night, scoring 11 seats as opposed to the 14 or 15 predicted by many polls.
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich urged Lapid on Wednesday not to join Netanyahu's government that will, according to her, "shatter the middle class."
"If [Lapid] joins an alternative coalition - I will assist him. If not, we will lead a fighting opposition that has never been seen before," she said.
Yacimovich also expressed disappointment with the 15 seats her party won in the election and said she will work to form a "peace chasing" coalition without Netanyahu.
The Yesh Atid camp said Wednesday that they would not cooperate with Yacimovich's bid to block another Netanyahu goverment, yet party #2 Rabbi Shai Piron warned the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party Shas that Yesh Atid would not allow it to engage in blackmail of the coalition in return for its support. Even so, Shas joint leader Ariel Attias announced Wednesday that his party would "sit with anyone", but intimated that there would be a price.
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, when asked about Lapid during a Wednesday press conference, stated that it was natural for him to take up the Finance Minister portfolio, as he specialized in internal issues. Lapid had been discussed as a possible candidate to serve as foreign minister in the next government.
Liberman responded to the election results, saying that the Israeli public had voted for a "dramatic change" in the country.
Speaking at a press conference, Liberman said: "The public is asking for a dramatic, not cosmetic change in Israel's internal agenda," including the burden of army service and lowering housing costs.
The Yisrael Beytenu leader warned that "we can't get everything," commenting that parties who can see themselves uniting as partners with Likud Beytenu must decide based on the factors that unite them.
"There are some parties we agree with on some issues but not others," Liberman said, but stressed that the public had voted for a "deep change" inside Israel, meaning that parties must compromise with a wide coalition.
The former foreign minister said that this means parties putting aside their differences, stating: "A wide coalition means not talking about portfolios but the national agenda."
Regarding the future leader of the coalition, Liberman said it's "clear to everyone" that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will remain prime minister.