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Israeli Political Party Heads Agree to Hold Elections May 29

Israel’s parliamentary leaders have reached an agreement to hold the country’s national elections on May 29.

“I am happy to announce that a date has been announced which is acceptable to all the factions” in the Knesset, Raanan Cohen said Tuesday.

Cohen, the Knesset leader of the Labor-led governing coalition, made the statement after holding intensive meetings throughout the day with members of the different parliamentary factions.

Last week, Prime Minister Shimon Peres announced that he would move up Israel’s elections to May or early June from the scheduled date in late October.

But in subsequent days, the various political parties were unable to agree on a specific date for the voting.

Likud and the religious parties had pushed for June 4, while the Labor Party had reportedly preferred May 14 or May 20 for the elections.

The Labor Party has faced mounting pressure to pin down a date in order to allow the Knesset enough time to take all the steps required for elections to take place.

Part of the pressure came from Knesset Law Committee Chairman Dedi Zucker of the Meretz Party, who said the committee had to push through legislation that would dissolve the current Knesset prior to the elections – a step that required a new election date.

Cohen held closed – door talks Tuesday afternoon with Likud Knesset member Michael Eitan. An hour later, he convened a meeting of all the Knesset party leaders, which was soon followed by the announcement of the date.

After the announcement, Zucker said he hoped to conclude the process of dissolving the Knesset before the end of the week.

No specific date has yet been given for when the current Knesset – the 13th – would dissolve. But Labor officials said it would likely be in March.

In a related development, Likud breakaway David Levy formally declared Tuesday that he was forming a new political party that would compete in the upcoming Knesset elections.

He also announced that he would run for prime minister as head of the new party.

Levy, 58, broke away from Likud last June in a dispute with Likud leader and longtime rival Benjamin Netanyahu over internal party election procedures.

He told reporters Tuesday that his new party, Gesher – Hebrew for “bridge” – could win as much as 20 percent of the vote for Knesset members.

Polls released last Friday reportedly indicated that Levy would win between 5 percent and 6 percent of the vote in the separate race against Peres and Netanyahu for the premiership.

Levy, who recently rebuffed overtures to join a Likud-Tsomet list that brings two right-wing parties under one parliamentary banner, is viewed as having the potential of siphoning votes away from Netanyahu by running separately on his new party’s centrist platform.

The Moroccan-born Levy, who is popular with the country’s Sephardi voters, is also seen as a potential kingmaker in Israel’s system of coalition politics if Peres’ current lead over Netanyahu in the polls begins to erode by election day.

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