JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, struck a conciliatory tone on Wednesday as he was formally tapped to form a new government, vowing to heal rifts in Israeli society and fix ties with the United States following an acrimonious election campaign.
Netanyahu's comments appeared to be aimed at repairing the damage caused by comments he made in the final days of the campaign that strained relations with the U.S. and drew accusations of racism from the country's Arab minority.
"I see myself as the prime minister of everyone," Netanyahu said. "I will act to heal the rifts, rifts that were opened between different parts of the society during the election campaign."
Seeking to shore up support among his hard-line voters in the final hours of the campaign, Netanyahu said he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on his watch and warned that Arab voters were heading to the polls "in droves."
The comments angered the U.S., which has made Palestinian statehood a major policy goal, and offended Israeli Arabs. His attempts at damage control, including an apology to Arab citizens of Israel, have so far been rebuffed, and President Barack Obama has said he will have to reassess his policies toward Israel.
Netanyahu spoke at a ceremony where the country's president, Reuven Rivlin, officially handed him the task of forming the next government. Rivlin, whose job is largely ceremonial, urged Netanyahu to repair ties with the U.S. and heal the wounds caused by the campaign.
Netanyahu's Likud Party captured 30 seats in last week's national election, making it the largest party in the 120-seat parliament. Although his party does not control a majority, party leaders controlling a total of 67 seats recommended that Netanyahu lead the next government for what would be his third consecutive term.
Netanyahu is all but guaranteed of forming a governing coalition. But the various partners will all be making conflicting demands for Cabinet portfolios, meaning up to six weeks of negotiations lie ahead. Netanyahu also may defy expectations and invite moderate political opponents to join his government — a step that could help promote unity at home and blunt international criticism.
Netanyahu said he would act to "preserve our alliance" with the U.S., but said he would nonetheless continue to resist an emerging nuclear deal being negotiated between the U.S. and Iran.