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Netanyahu To Change Coalition After Israel's Election

Now that Israel's voters have made their choices, the country's political leaders are in coalition-building mode. Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated he'll push for a center-right alliance incorporating the new force on the political scene, Yair Lapid, whose party finished in second place in the balloting. Host Scott Simon speaks with NPR's Larry Abramson.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Next door in Israel, this week's surprising election results are being analyzed. Tuesday's vote brought in a parliament that is almost evenly split between right and left. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds onto power, but his governing coalition will change. And a party led by a charismatic newcomer has jumped into the spotlight. We're joined now by NPR's Larry Abramson in Jerusalem. Larry, thanks so much for being with us.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Scott.

SIMON: So please tell us about Yair Lapid, a former broadcast journalist, new to politics. He now controls the second biggest party in the Knesset. Any clues if he's going to be included in the new coalition?

ABRAMSON: It's pretty clear he is going to be included, and the question is just what is his role is going to be and how powerful that role will be. There's been kind of a media feeding frenzy in the last few days wondering with cabinet position Lapid will get. Will he take a high-profile position like the foreign ministry or will he take something domestic because he emphasized domestic issues during the campaign, like bringing down the cost of living.

And Lapid told his followers on Facebook to slow down. He wants to preserve his outsider status and doesn't want to just look for the most powerful position that he can get. And he said, you know, this could take a month to figure all this out. He doesn't want to follow the typical process that most of these government's go through because he's still trying to be an outsider, but of course he's on his way to the inside.

And a really big question is whether Lapid's party will serve together in a coalition with religious parties who have been traditionally part of Benyir Nevenya's(ph) coalition. Lapid campaigned heavily on the need to draft religious students into the army and into the workforce.

SIMON: And how have the religious parties reacted?

ABRAMSON: They are cautious. Lapid has brought a number of religious figures into his party to show that he is not attacking religious elements in society. He just wants them to bear their fair share of the burden of paying taxes and doing military service. But many religious leaders have said there is no way that they're going to allow a draft of all religious students. This is something that has been around in Israeli society since the founding of the country.

Lapid actually says he wants to this slowly and phase in these policies, but religious elements are concerned that they will be pushed into something they don't want. And one figure urged Lapid today to tread carefully to avoid what he called civil war over the issue.

SIMON: You know, Larry, let me follow up on something. You mentioned that most of Mr. Lapid's platform was devoted to domestic issues. And of course in this country the one question we usually bring up first is: Does a new government seem to be more or less likely to enter into talks with Palestinians? What can you tell us about that?

ABRAMSON: Well, you know, resuming talks with the Palestinians, which have been stalled for many years as you know, is a plank in Yair Lapid's party platform, and many of his legislators have said, since the election, they only want to be in a coalition if it's going to pursue peace talks. But we don't know how far they're going to push this. Yair Lapid has said that he does now want to see Jerusalem partitioned again the way it was for so many years between east and west. And that could simply be a deal breaker for getting talks started again with the Palestinian Authority.

SIMON: Any reaction that you've gotten among Palestinians in Israel and in the region?

ABRAMSON: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said today that he's ready to work with any government that recognizes his people's right to have their own state. Many Palestinians that I talked to are still skeptical about any Israeli government because they feel like people from the left and the right have abused them in the past. And Netanyahu is still the prime minister and there's not a lot of trust between Netanyahu and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians are also continuing to push on some hot buttons that annoy the Israelis, like calling themselves a state, following last years United Nations vote, and they're threatening to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court. So there's a long way to go before peace talks can start again.

SIMON: NPR's Larry Abramson in Jerusalem. Thanks so much.

ABRAMSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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