Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Shimon Peres toasted the formation of the new parliament on Monday.

RONEN ZVULUN • Associated Press ,

Netanyahu alludes to 'historic compromise' with Palestinians

  • Article by: Joel greenberg
  • Washington Post
  • March 18, 2013 - 11:43 PM

– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel was ready for a “historic compromise” in talks with the Palestinians as he presented a new government that is a mix of centrists and hawkish supporters of Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Speaking in parliament before the 22 ministers were sworn in, Netanyahu said that, while the Cabinet would work to carry out domestic reforms that were the focus of Israel’s election in January, the government’s top priority would be “protecting the security of the state and its citizens.”

He said Israel faced threats from Iran’s nuclear program and the upheaval in Syria, where he warned that stockpiles of “some of the deadliest weapons on earth” could fall into the hands of militants. He pledged that Israel would “take all measures necessary to prevent those weapons from falling in the hands of the terrorist organizations.”

Two days before a planned visit by President Obama, who is expected to explore options for renewing stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu struck a conciliatory tone.

“With a Palestinian partner that is ready to conduct negotiations in good faith, Israel will be ready for a historic compromise that will end the conflict with the Palestinians once and for all,” Netanyahu added.

Still, key positions in his new government are held by strong backers of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, an issue that has stymied efforts to restart peace negotiations. The Palestinians have refused to resume talks unless Israel suspends building in the settlements, while Netanyahu has urged a resumption of talks without preconditions.

Israel’s new defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, a hawkish former army chief of staff, has backed building the settlements and retroactive authorization of some settlement outposts built without permission.

It is unclear whether the centrist parties will press for reining in settlement building or act as a counterweight to the pro-settlement hawks.

Tzipi Livni, the new justice minister, has been appointed chief negotiator with the Palestinians, although her work is to be guided by a ministerial committee on the peace process that includes Netanyahu and Yaalon. A former foreign minister who heads the small Hatnua faction, Livni campaigned for a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, and has pledged to put peace efforts high on the agenda of the new government.

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