Israel's most urgent task is to "stop Iran's nuclearization," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, a day after officially being tapped by the president to head a new coalition.
Netanyahu, who was speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet session, said politicians of all stripes should join forces in order to meet the challenges that lie ahead, because "only together can we ensure Israel's future."
"Yesterday I called on all the parties in the Knesset to join me and form a national unity government that is as broad as possible, and which unites the public in such a crucial moment in our history," Netanyahu said. "Our over-arching goal is to stop the nuclearization of Iran. This mission is becoming more complex because Iran is obtaining more advanced centrifuges that shorten the enrichment time. We must not accept this with resignation."
Netanyahu also listed three secondary priorities: "passing a responsible budget" that would also lower the cost of living; passing a more just military conscription law "to avoid a rupture within our society," and "advancing a responsible peace process."
President Shimon Peres' decision to officially grant Netanyahu the authority to form the next government came after 82 of the 120 incoming Knesset members recommended that the current prime minster lead the next government following the recent election.
Netanyahu now has 28 days to hold coalition negotiations. If the task of forming the next government is not complete by then, he can ask Peres for a 14-day extension.
"The country needs the new government at the earliest possible opportunity," Peres said in a ceremony at his residence in Jerusalem. "The representatives of the different parties raised important issues with me during our discussions and asked that they be considered when the government is formed. Included among them: the national deficit, social justice, the fight against discrimination, equitable sharing of the national burden, conscription to the Israel Defense Forces, restarting diplomatic negotiations to achieve peace and ways to deal with the security threats facing Israel."
"I hope that the [government formation process] will be concluded quickly," Peres said. "The State of Israel needs diplomatic and economic stability so that the government can make the necessary decisions that are on the agenda. The challenges are many, serious and urgent. The people expect a worthy government to be formed quickly so that it can roll up its sleeves and get to work."
Peres concluded his speech by turning to Netanyahu and wishing him luck with the "commendable duty" of forming the next government.
Netanyahu thanked Israel citizens "for the trust you have placed in me."
"It is an honor and a major responsibility to receive the mandate from you, for what is now a third time, to lead our country," Netanyahu said.
In his speech, Netanyahu called for the establishment of the broadest possible government.
"We must remove the divisions among us to promote internal peace and peace with our neighbors, as well as to bring security to our nation," Netanyahu said. "Mr. President, in this spirit and with this hope, I accept the task you have given me."
"The reality in which we live has no place for bans," Netanyahu said. "Therefore, I call upon those who said they would not sit in the government to reconsider. We must connect all parts of the people and not incite sector against sector. We don't have the privilege of dividing our strength. We must stand united against the forces trying to split and break apart the State of Israel."
Netanyahu touched on some of the main issues that would come up in coalition talks.
"We are committed to making the distribution of the national service burden more equitable," Netanyahu said. "I am convinced we can make a fundamental change without tearing the nation apart or causing a civil war. We must lower the cost of living, first and foremost apartment prices. We must change the system of government to bring more stability to the State of Israel. Tasks of this magnitude require the broadest and most stable national unity government possible. The paramount mission of the next government that I form will be to stop Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons."
Netanyahu said the next government would be committed to achieving peace with the Palestinians and called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table with Israel.
"Every day that passes without talks and without us searching together for a solution of peace is unfortunate," Netanyahu said.
Coalition negotiations were set to get underway officially on Sunday at the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan. The first round of talks is expected to last two days. Likud-Beytenu will hold meetings with Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Hatnuah and Kadima during the first round of talks.
It appears that Netanyahu prefers to form a government that includes the ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism), even if this means that Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid will not join the coalition. Likud-Beytenu sources said that Netanyahu does not want the fate of the next government to depend on Lapid. If Lapid does not compromise on issues that would keep the haredim out of the government, Netanyahu would prefer a partnership with the haredim over Lapid, the sources said.
"Netanyahu is interested in the broadest possible government that includes the haredim and Lapid and therefore he expects the sides to demonstrate the flexibility that will allow everyone to join the coalition," a Likud-Beytenu source said on Saturday night.
Netanyahu associates have expressed concern that in recent days Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett have coordinated their positions on certain issues that will arise in the coalition talks, mainly on equalizing the distribution of the national service burden. At the same time, Habayit Hayehudi has also been holding talks with the haredi parties. Uri Ariel, who is second on the Habayit Hayehudi list, met recently with Rabbi Meir Porush from United Torah Judaism.
Ahead of the start of coalition talks, Eli Yishai, a member of Shas' political leadership triumvirate, said on Saturday night that "a change in legislation regarding the haredim must not be carried out without them. Any such change must be made with respect and understanding, not with flags and slogans."
Meanwhile, Lapid held a party attended by thousands at Kibbutz Netzer Sereni on Saturday night to celebrate Yesh Atid's electoral success. Lapid stood on stage and shouted, "We won!" before singing a number of Beatles songs.
"It turned out that you can win without sullying anyone," Lapid said.