NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, February 20th 2009
BY Matthew Kalman
DAILY NEWS WRITER
JERUSALEM - Hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu was poised to return as Israel's prime minister after a maverick right-winger endorsed him Thursday in the wake of the country's indecisive elections.
Israel Is Our Home, the party headed by Avigdor Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer from Moldova, won 15 of 120 Knesset parliament seats in last week's election, catapulting him into third place. With Netanyahu and centrist candidate Tzipi Livni in a dead heat, Lieberman's support for Netanyahu would tip the balance of power to Netanyahu.
Lieberman's rise has aroused concern in the U.S., where the Obama administration is trying to kick-start the peace process.
Livni's centrist Kadima Party won with 28 seats while Netanyahu came in second with 27. Livni offered a rotating premiership with Netanyahu in a broad unity coalition, but Netanyahu demanded leadership.
Both need Lieberman's support to form a coalition with a working majority. Lieberman's support for Netanyahu came with strings attached.
"We recommend Benjamin Netanyahu only in the framework of a broad government," Lieberman said.
Livni signaled that she would not join a coalition government, but President Shimon Peres summoned Netanyahu and Livni to his official residence today to urge them to set aside differences and work together.