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Israel Prepares to Swear In Netanyahu as Prime Minister



Israel is preparing to swear in rightist Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. Mr. Netanyahu will lead a coalition government dominated by rightists. Mr. Netanyahu, however, is sounding a conciliatory tone, promising to work for peace with the Arabs.

Benjamin Netanyahu campaigned on promises to be tough on Palestinian militants and on Iran. He also pledged his support for the continued expansion of Jewish settlements on Israeli-occupied lands.

In remarks to Israel's parliament - the Knesset - Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu sought to temper his hard-line image. He said he would work toward peace not only with the Palestinians, but also with the entire Arab and Muslim world.

Mr. Netanyahu said his government will work to make progress on the Palestinian peace process, and to reach peace with Israel's neighbors. He said this would be with the condition that Israel's security, historical and national interests be safeguarded.

Mr. Netanyahu's speech was interrupted by hecklers several times.

The incoming prime minister did not say whether he would be willing to negotiate for a two-state solution - something the United States and other nations have urged Israel to do. He indicated that his strategy for peace will focus on boosting the Palestinian economy.

Mr. Netanyahu said his message to the Palestinian leadership is that peace is attainable, if the Palestinians want it. He said Israel under his government would work to develop the Palestinian economy and increase economic ties between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Analysts say Mr. Netanyahu's promises to work for peace are pragmatic steps meant to quell international concerns about the future of peace negotiations under his government.

"Everyone in the world is very concerned about whether this is a right-wing extremist government," said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a political scientist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "It's only natural that he try to calm those fears in order to maintain Israel's legitimacy in the international community."

However, Wolfsfeld says Mr. Netanyahu's basic stance has not changed. He says he expects Israel's new government to make few concessions to the Palestinians.

"The fact that he didn't even give lip service to the two-state solution and basically is saying, 'We don't believe in two states.' [It is] not clear, by the way, what the alternative is," he said. "I think that's a pretty good sign that he's serious about his ideology, that two states are a danger to Israel."

Mr. Netanyahu has further raised international concerns with his choice of Avigdor Lieberman, head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, as foreign minister.

Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer who lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, campaigned on promises to force members of Israel's Arab minority to pledge allegiance to the Jewish State or lose their citizenship.

He angered Egypt's government in October with inflammatory remarks in which he said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could "go to hell".


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