Obama calls to congratulate Bibi


WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama in a congratulatory call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he looked forward to working with the new Israeli government.

A White House statement issued Monday said Obama in the phone call congratulated Netanyahu on his party winning a plurality of Knesset seats in the Jan. 22 elections.

"The President indicated that the United States looks forward to working with the next government," the statement said. "He also reiterated his commitment to the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel, and pledged to work closely with Israel on our shared agenda for peace and security in the Middle East."

Netanyahu’s Likud Beiteinu list won 31 seats in the elections for the 19th Knesset, and the right-wing religious bloc it leads garnered 61 seats — the barest majority needed to rule.

Netanyahu, however, has indicated that he would prefer to form a coalition with centrist parties.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for President Shimon Peres confirmed to JTA a report on Israel’s Channel 10 news that Peres invited Obama to visit Israel in June, when Peres is convening a conference of world presidents and marking his 90th birthday.

White House spokesmen did not respond to queries as to whether Obama had accepted.

Obama did not visit Israel during his first term as president, which drew criticism from his rivals in the last election campaign.

Few U.S. presidents have visited Israel in their first term, but Obama’s failure to visit was perceived by some as a snub because of his visits to Islamic countries.

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