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Netanyahu Says His Government Wants Partnership with Palestinians


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his new government will be a partner for peace with the Palestinians. The statement appears to mark a departure for Mr. Netanyahu, whose campaign promises called for Israel to make few concessions in the peace process.

Mr. Netanyahu spoke a day after he succeeded in winning the participation of the left-of-center Labor party in his new coalition government.

His remarks, made at an economic forum in Jerusalem, marked a change of tone for a man who campaigned as one who would give few concessions to the Palestinians and whose first priority would not be negotiations.

"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.

Mr. Netanyahu has worked to temper his image as he struggles to build a coalition that would cater to the wants of an electorate that called for a tough stance on the Palestinians, and at the same time maintain Israel's good relations with Washington and others in the international community.

The United States has urged Israel to work toward a two-state solution, and wants it to stop expanding Jewish settlements in the territories it occupies.

Mr. Netanyahu has not declared his support for a two-state solution. He has also said he supports allowing Jewish settlements to expand.

Yisrael Beiteinu, one of the parties that earlier joined his coalition, calls for the exclusion of Arabs from Israel, while the other, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, rejects any negotiation on the status of Jerusalem. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians claim the city as their capital.

These issues could potentially derail any new attempts to put the peace process back on track.

Palestinian officials cautiously welcomed Mr. Netanyahu's remarks on Wednesday. A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel's new government must be committed to a two-state solution.

The support of the Labor party gives Mr. Netanyahu the parliament majority he needs to form a government before an April 3 deadline.

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