Benjamin Netanyahu tells Palestinians he will be a partner in peace talks - TriWooOx - 03-25-2009 02:32 PM
Quote:In a speech a day after enlisting the centre-left Labour Party into a broad-based administration that could help him avoid friction with US President Barack Obama over peacemaking, Mr Netanyahu focused on his plans to shore up the Palestinian economy.
"I think that the Palestinians should understand that they have in our government a partner for peace, for security and for rapid economic development of the Palestinian economy," he said at a conference aimed at drawing investment in both Israel and the Palestinian areas.
"Peace: It's not the last goal. It's a common and enduring goal for all Israelis and all Israeli governments - mine included," he said.
But Mr Netanyahu did not go as far as to publicly endorse a two-state solution, the basis of a peace plan being advocated by Washington and the goal of the Palestinian Authority.
The coalition appears to have saved Mr Netanyahu from one of his worst fears: a narrow, Right-wing government that would rely exclusively on religious and nationalist parties for survival. It was precisely such a narrow, inflexible government that collapsed under him the last time he served as prime minister in the late 1990s, when he tried to move forward with peace efforts.
Another such government now was likely to have put him on a collision course with Washington, something he was not anxious to repeat after a contentious relationship with the White House when he was last in office.
Under the coalition deal with Labour, led by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Mr Netanyahu's Right-wing Likud party would adhere to previous international agreements made by Israel, a formula that leaves the window open for a deal on Palestinian statehood.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said Mr Netanyahu's comments, made in Jerusalem at a conference about Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation, would be measured in actions.
"Any Israeli government that accepts the two-state solution, negotiates with us on all core issues without exception, and agrees to stop settlement activity ... will be a partner," he said. "It's time for deeds from both sides as far as their commitments are concerned, not words."
Meanwhile, as Mr Netanyahu gave his speech at the conference, Israel's army radio reported that he had made a secret deal with Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu, who would be a senior partner in his government, that construction would take place in the West Bank in an area known as E-1. The plans for building there, a few miles east of Jerusalem, are highly controversial.
Palestinians and some Israeli critics say it would cut the West Bank in two, making it more difficult to establish a Palestinian state.