JERUSALEM -- A badly weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrambled today to keep his job by reaching out to a new centrist party that advocates a more earnest push on peacemaking with the Palestinians after Israel's parliamentary election produced a stunning deadlock.
The results defied forecasts that Israel's next government would veer sharply to the right at a time when the country faces mounting international isolation, growing economic problems and regional turbulence. While that opens the door to unexpected movement on peace efforts, a coalition joining parties with dramatically divergent views on peacemaking, the economy and the military draft could just as easily be headed for gridlock -- and perhaps a short life.
Israeli media said that with 99.8 percent of votes counted, each bloc had 60 of parliament's 120 seats. Commentators said Netanyahu, who called early elections three months ago expecting easy victory, would be tapped to form the next government because the rival camp drew 12 of its 60 seats from Arab parties that traditionally are excluded from coalition building.
A surprising strong showing by a political newcomer, the centrist Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, party, in Tuesday's vote turned pre-election forecasts on their heads and dealt a setback to Netanyahu. Yesh Atid's leader, Yair Lapid, has said he would only join a government committed to sweeping economic changes and a serious push to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, which have languished throughout Netanyahu's four-year tenure.
The results were not official, and there was a slim chance of a slight shift in the final bloc breakdowns and a possibility that Netanyahu would not form the next government, even though both he and Lapid have called for the creation of a broad coalition.
North Korea offers warning: North Korea swiftly lashed out against the UN Security Council's condemnation of its December launch of a long-range rocket, saying Wednesday that it will strengthen its military defenses -- including its nuclear weaponry -- in response. The defiant statement from North Korea's Foreign Ministry was issued hours after the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning Pyongyang's Dec. 12 rocket launch as a violation of a ban against nuclear and missile activity. The resolution, which won approval from Pyongyang's ally and protector China after drawn-out discussions, also expanded sanctions against the North.
Recognition sought for victims: Nearly 50 years ago, white supremacists planted a bomb in a Birmingham, Ala., church that killed four young girls preparing to worship, an act of terror that shocked the nation and propelled Congress to pass that historic 1964 Civil Rights Act. Lawmakers now want to honor those victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor that Congress can bestow. Birmingham Reps. Terri Sewell, a Democrat, and Spencer Bachus, a Republican, announced the bipartisan effort Tuesday to award the medal to the four slain children: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14 when they were killed, and Denise McNair, who was 11. Sewell said the bombing was a catalyst for the civil rights movement.
Kirk to step down: U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk, who worked to get trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama through Congress, is leaving the Obama administration next month. Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, announced his departure in a brief statement Tuesday. He had served as the administration's top trade negotiator through President Barack Obama's first term in office. Kirk also led the administration's effort to bring cases before the World Trade Organization that accused China of unfair trade practices. Among them were charges of imposing heavy tariffs on imports of U.S. automobiles, auto parts and steel. His office also joined the European Union and Japan in accusing China of limiting its exports of rare earth minerals, which are used to manufacture hybrid car batteries, flat-screen televisions and other high tech products.
Finds 787 battery not overcharged: Japan's transport safety agency says a lithium ion battery on a Boeing 787 that overheated during an All Nippon Airways flight earlier this month, prompting an emergency landing, was not overcharged. Japan Transport Safety Board chairman Norihiro Goto told reporters today the flight's data recorder showed the battery was not overcharged. That contradicts an earlier finding by the agency as it investigates with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Investigators from both sides are probing the maker of the battery, GS Yuasa, and are examining it using CAT scans at a facility of Japan's aerospace agency. U.S. investigators also said that they found no evidence of overcharging in a battery that ignited on a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 as it sat on the tarmac in Boston's airport.
Exxon Mobil meets Kurd leader: Iraq's Kurdish regional government said its president has held talks with the head of Exxon Mobil amid signs that the energy giant may be exploring new options with the Kurds' rival, the central government in Baghdad. The Kurds said late Tuesday that regional President Massoud Barzani met with Exxon chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson in Switzerland and discussed company activities. It gave no further details. Exxon infuriated Baghdad in 2011 by signing a deal with the Kurds to hunt for oil in their region and in nearby disputed territories. Tillerson's talks followed a rare meeting Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Opel may move up end of production: General Motors Co. says it could end car production at a German plant at the beginning of 2015, two years earlier than planned, as it tries to turn around its European unit amid economic gloom in the region. Opel announced last month it plans to stop producing cars at its plant in Bochum, northwest Germany, in 2016 when it stops making its current Zafira model. It has been negotiating with employee representatives on its turnaround plan. A letter to employees Tuesday from Steve Girsky, chairman of Opel's board of directors and GM vice chairman, says results in those talks are needed in February. He says that if there's no deal, Zafira production in Bochum would end Jan. 1, 2015, after an existing agreement to keep the site open expires.