Israeli leader moves toward September elections

Associated Press Modified: May 6, 2012 at 2:16 pm •  Published: May 6, 2012
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JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday signaled he wants to hold new elections in September, more than a year ahead of schedule, setting up a brief campaign that polls suggest will propel him to another term in office.

A new election could also result in a far different coalition comprised of centrist parties more open to making concession to the Palestinians. The situation also adds new uncertainty to the decision on whether Israel should take military action against Iran's suspect nuclear program.

Addressing a convention of his Likud Party on Sunday night, Netanyahu sounded as if he was already on the campaign trail, presenting a list of accomplishments by his government. He said he had strengthened the economy, boosted security and put the issue of Iran's nuclear program on the international agenda.

Netanyahu also left little doubt about his intentions to call elections and form a broad coalition.

"I believe we will get a renewed mandate from the citizens of Israel to continue to lead the country. With God's help, we will form as wide a government as possible," he said. "I won't lend my hand to an election campaign that will last a year and a half and damage the state. A short campaign of four months is better. That can return stability to the political system quickly."

Netanyahu gave no firm date for the vote, despite days of speculation it would be set for Sept. 4. Officials said Netanyahu, who ended a one-week mourning period earlier Sunday over the death of his father, wanted time to consult with other parties before finalizing the date. The parliament must approve new elections and their date.

Netanyahu's government, Israel's most stable in years, was scheduled to remain in power until late 2013.

But disagreements over budget demands, unsanctioned West Bank settlement construction and draft exemptions granted to ultra-religious Jewish men have created rifts inside the governing coalition.

Polls suggest Netanyahu's Likud Party is expected to win at least one-quarter of parliament's 120 seats to become the legislature's largest faction — putting him in a comfortable position to form a majority coalition.

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