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Netanyahu closes in on Israeli prime minister's seat

JERUSALEM — Benjamin Netanyahu won the endorsement Thursday of anti-Arab politician Avigdor Lieberman, who emerged from Israel's election as a kingmaker, virtually ensuring that the hawkish, U.S.-educated politician will once again become prime minister.

Lieberman's Israel Beitenu Party (Israel Is Our Home) finished third in the Feb. 10 election, after Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima and Netanyahu's Likud Party.

The big question is whether Netanyahu will be able to build the broad coalition he will likely need to stay in power and avoid clashing with the Obama administration and much of the world.

With his top rival, Foreign Minister Livni, signaling that she would enter the opposition, Netanyahu's prospects for such a coalition do not look good. He will probably have little choice but to forge a coalition with nationalist and religious parties opposed to peacemaking with the Palestinians and Israel's other Arab neighbors.

"Today the foundations were laid for an extremist right-wing government under the leadership of Netanyahu," Livni said in a text message to 80,000 members of her Kadima Party. "That is not our way and there is nothing for us in such a government. … We must be an alternative of hope and go into opposition."

Livni seeks a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, a position supported by the Obama administration, while Netanyahu's partner on the right, Lieberman, has drawn opprobrium with his call for Israel's 1 million Arabs to swear allegiance to the Jewish state or lose their citizenship.

U.S. lawmakers visit Gaza Strip

For the first time in nearly a decade, U.S. lawmakers toured the isolated, battle-scarred Gaza Strip. The short, separate tours Thursday by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Brian Baird of Washington marked the first time high-level American officials have entered Gaza since Hamas seized control of the Mediterranean coastal strip in 2007. It also was the first time U.S. lawmakers had gone to Gaza since the second Palestinian uprising broke out in 2000.

McClatchy Newspapers

Netanyahu closes in on Israeli prime minister's seat 02/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 19, 2009 9:55pm]
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