JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's president asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday to form the next government, and Netanyahu pledged that his new administration will be committed to advancing peace talks with the Palestinians.
Israeli President Shimon Peres formally requested Netanyahu to build a governing coalition, after conducting consultations with all 12 parties that won seats in last week's election. A majority of newly elected lawmakers recommended Netanyahu as prime minister-designate.
Netanyahu now has six weeks to form a coalition government, with an extension of 14 days if needed. If he succeeds, he will begin his third term as Israeli premier.
At a televised news conference, Netanyahu said the government's top priority should be to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. He also said the government should "deal with another deadly weapon being stockpiled near us and threatening our cities and civilians," a thinly veiled reference to weapons caches in Syria. An attack on a weapons convoy in Syria this week has been widely attributed to Israel, though Israel has not commented on the matter.
Netanyahu also said his next government would be "committed to peace."
"I call on Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) to come back to the negotiating table," Netanyahu said. "It's a shame, with every day that passes without us talking and trying to find a solution for peace for our two nations."
Netanyahu also vowed to push for more universal military service that would put an end to longstanding draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students, lower housing prices and revamp the Israeli system of governance. Those were three high-priority issues for the new centrist party Yesh Atid, which emerged as the second largest party in the January elections after Netanyahu's Likud party.