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Netanyahu names government, offers Palestinians peace
Tue Mar 31, 2009 3:03pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Benjamin Netanyahu submitted his right-leaning government to parliamentary approval on Tuesday and assured Palestinian leaders that peace with Israel was possible.
Netanyahu, whose right-wing Likud party emerged on top in coalition bargaining after a February 10 election, also hit out at Iran and "extremist Islam" for threatening the existence of the Jewish state.
"The greatest danger to humanity and our state of Israel stems from the possibility that a radical regime will arm itself with nuclear weapons," he said, in indirect reference to Iran.
Returning to power 10 years after he was voted out as prime minister, Netanyahu read out a cabinet list that included ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister. His policies toward Israeli Arabs have stoked international concern.
Parliament was expected to back the appointments after a debate scheduled to last some hours.
"I say to the Palestinian leadership that if you really want peace we can achieve peace," Netanyahu told a Knesset session interrupted by heckling from Arab and left-wing lawmakers.
He offered negotiations on "three parallel tracks, economic, security and diplomatic" with the Palestinian Authority.
While describing a final peace settlement under which Palestinians would run their own affairs, Netanyahu made no specific mention of establishing a Palestinian state -- a key demand of President Mahmoud Abbas and backed by Washington.
His coalition pact binding the various parties, however, contains a pledge to respect Israel's international agreements, a formula that includes accords on a Palestinian state.
"Under a permanent settlement the Palestinians will have all the necessary authority to rule themselves, except for those that would threaten Israel's existence and security," he said.
Anything less than an explicit commitment to what is called the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could put Netanyahu on a collision course with Washington and the European Union.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, an Abbas aide, said Netanyahu's "obscure" statements were proof his government would not seek the goal of a two-state solution but would focus instead on "destroying the peace process entirely."
"We need an honest and clear commitment from the Israeli government to the two-state solution," Rdainah told Reuters by phone from Doha.
Palestinian officials have said Netanyahu must clearly endorse statehood for peace talks, currently frozen, to succeed. Continued...
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