Livni's Moderate Party Holds Edge in Final Israeli Count

Final results from Israel's election, announced Thursday, leave the Kadima Party of moderate Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with a slight lead over Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish Likud, but the hard-line bloc in the new parliament would have the power to stymie Mideast peace efforts.

Kadima will receive 28 seats in the 120-seat parliament and Likud 27, far less than the majority each would need to govern. Livni and Netanyahu are already hard at work trying to line up potential coalition partners.

Israel's Election Commission released the final results Thursday evening after counting votes by soldiers, prisoners and diplomats, about 100,000 out of a total of 3.3 million cast. The additional votes did not change the allocation of seats in the parliament tallied after the Tuesday election.

The hawkish bloc headed by Likud, including the third largest party, Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu Party, controls 65 seats, giving Netanyahu the edge in coalition building. However, each party has its own agenda, and getting them all to sit around the same Cabinet table is far from automatic.

So both Livni and Netanyahu are promoting the idea of a joint "national unity" government. In the most likely scenario, Netanyahu would be the prime minister, and Kadima would be allocated important government ministries like finance, defense or foreign affairs. Together the two parties would approach a parliamentary majority, reducing the bargaining power of the smaller factions as potential coalition members.

Lieberman's party won 15 seats. He hopes to redraw Israel's borders to push areas with heavy concentrations of Israeli Arabs outside the Jewish state and under Palestinian jurisdiction. Those who remain would be forced to sign an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state to maintain the right to vote or run for office. If Likud and Kadima team up, Lieberman's ability to force such radical changes would be cut.

But the hawkish makeup of the parliament — and Netanyahu's own opposition to peace treaty talks with the Palestinians — could dictate Israeli refusal to move toward an accord. That could put the new Israeli government into conflict with the Obama administration, as President Obama has pledged to put Mideast peacemaking high on his agenda.

Last month he sent his special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, on his first tour of the region. Mitchell is on record as favoring talks toward a peace treaty and opposing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu disagrees on both issues.

Next Wednesday the election results will be published in the official government journal, and then the formal clock starts ticking toward formation of a new Israeli government.

The process starts with President Shimon Peres consulting the 12 parties to hear their recommendations about who should become prime minister. Peres picks the candidate he believes has the best chance.

If more than 60 members of parliament express support for one of the candidates, Peres' choice becomes obvious — and efforts by Livni and Netanyahu now are focused on trying to win those endorsements.

The premier-designate has six weeks to form a coalition government and win approval from the new parliament.

Only once has a prime minister-designate failed to form a government. That was Livni, picked to succeed the current premier, Ehud Olmert, who tendered his resignation in late September because of multiple corruption investigations. She had to inform Peres of her failure, forcing Tuesday's election.