Page last updated at 18:03 GMT, Thursday, 12 February 2009

Results confirm Israeli deadlock

Tzipi Livni, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu
Neither leader is willing to step aside

The final results of Israel's general election have confirmed that neither of the two main parties can form a government on its own.

With military and overseas ballots counted, the governing Kadima still has 28 seats and the opposition Likud has 27 - well short of the 61 they need.

Party leaders are seeking coalition partners to form a government.

Israel's president is expected to begin consultations next week about which party to ask to form a government.

The results will be published officially on Wednesday after which President Shimon Peres can ask either Kadima's Tzipi Livni, the current foreign minister, or Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu to try to form a coalition government.

Mr Netanyahu, a former prime minister, has argued that he is best placed to form a government because parliament has a broad right-wing majority.

However, the final results released by the Israel Elections Committee dashed his hopes that the late counting of votes from soldiers could swing the ballot his way, correspondents say.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain would work with whatever government was formed towards the creation of a Palestinian state "able to live alongside a secure Israel".

"I think 70 or 75% of the Israeli public say they want a two-state solution but... I think the election results don't reflect that view in the nomination of the Knesset," he told the BBC's HARDtalk programme.

All eyes on nationalists

The ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu came third in the election with 15 seats while the Labour party led by Defence Minister Ehud Barak was pushed back into an unprecedented fourth place with 13.

Kadima: 28 seats
Likud: 27 seats
Yisrael Beiteinu: 15
Labour: 13
Shas: 11
United Torah Judaism: 5
Source: Yedioth Ahronoth

Speaking at a victory rally earlier, Ms Livni told supporters she was ready to lead the country.

However, Mr Netanyahu said that, with God's help, he would lead the next government.

The country's largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, ran the headline "Political stalemate" alongside photographs of both leaders.

Together, Likud and various nationalist parties now control 65 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman said his party wanted a right-wing government but he added: "We do not rule out anyone."

He met with Ms Livni on Wednesday as Kadima attempted to forge a coalition.

Her rival Mr Netanyahu later met Mr Lieberman, as well as the head of Shas, Eli Yishay.

It is thought that coalition negotiations could take weeks.

Likud had held a solid lead in opinion polls prior to the election, but Kadima closed the gap in the final days.

Voters in Jerusalem give their views on the Israeli election results

However several smaller parties, whose support Ms Livni would need, are opposed to some of her policies, especially her pledge to exchange land for peace with the Palestinians.

Whoever is chosen to form the next government then has up to 42 days to form a coalition. If the attempt fails, Mr Peres can ask another leader to assume the task.

The election has been dominated by security issues following Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Although its rival in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority, has not expressed preference for any candidate, senior negotiator Saeb Erakat expressed dismay right-wing parties that oppose the traditional land-for-peace formula had performed so well.

"It is obvious the Israelis have voted to paralyse the peace process," he said.

Elections were called early after Ms Livni failed to form a new government following Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to step down last year amid a corruption probe against him.

Mr Olmert will stay on as caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed.

Israel election results graphic

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