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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Netanyahu Calls for Talks With Arab States

JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called on Israel's Arab neighbors to "widen the circle of peace'' and said he would pursue negotiations with Syria, Lebanon and other Arab states on the basis of no preconditions.


Netanyahu's inaugural policy address was marred by a revolt within his Likud Party over his refusal to hand a major portfolio to Ariel Sharon, leader of the party's right wing.


Despite the crisis, Netanyahu was expected to seek Knesset approval for a new cabinet Tuesday and would hold onto the foreign affairs, housing and religious affairs portfolios temporarily.


Palestinian leaders greeted the new government with alarm, saying they feared that its published policy guidelines would kill the peace process and provoke new violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Arab cities are run by Yasser Arafat's PLO.


Although Netanyahu is committed to continuing the peace process launched by the outgoing Labor Party government, the guidelines rule out a Palestinian state and back Jewish settlement of the disputed West Bank and Gaza. They also rule out a withdrawal from the Golan Heights as demanded by Syria.


"To widen the circle of peace with all our neighbors ... is a primary goal of the government,'' Netanyahu said. But he said that more emphasis on security was necessary in order to reach "a stable and viable peace, not a passing and temporary agreement.''


Addressing Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia from the Knesset rostrum, Netanyahu said: "Let us conduct direct negotiations for peace...negotiations without preconditions.''


Netanyahu said his formula for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement would be "minimal Israeli involvement in lives of Palestinians'' -- but not the independent state the PLO seeks.


Arab leaders, concerned that the peace process is in danger, have scheduled a summit in Cairo this weekend to discuss Israel's change of government.