Obama congratulates Netanyahu in phone call

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on winning the most seats in the next Knesset and said he looked forward to working with the new government.

“President Obama spoke today by telephone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate him on his party’s success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats in Israel’s recent election,” said a White House statement issued Monday. “The President indicated that the United States looks forward to working with the next government. 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 last week’s national 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 he would prefer setting up 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 tough 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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