Netanyahu takes conciliatory tone

The Baltimore Sun

JERUSALEM -Benjamin Netanyahu, taking office as Israeli prime minister Tuesday amid heckling by leftist and Arab lawmakers, offered to seek a "permanent arrangement" for limited Palestinian self-rule.

"We do not wish to rule another people," the conservative leader declared in a speech to the Knesset, Israel's parliament. Without endorsing the goal of sovereignty for the Palestinians, he said he favored an accord giving them "all the powers necessary to rule themselves, except those that would threaten Israel's existence and security."

His remarks reaffirmed a stance at odds with the Obama administration, which advocates continued moves toward an independent Palestinian state, and reflected Israel's rightward shift in the Feb. 10 election. But his message was mostly conciliatory as he became prime minister for a second time.

Voicing support for a broader U.S. objective in the region, he said Israel "today more than ever strives to reach full peace with the entire Arab and Muslim world." He added: "That yearning is supported by a joint interest of Israel and the Arab states against the fanatical obstacle" of terrorism.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's longtime partner in peace talks, reacted with scorn. "This man doesn't believe in peace, so how can we deal with him?" he said on Palestine Television.

Netanyahu spoke near the start of an often raucous session of the newly elected parliament. Six hours later, it ratified his appointments to a 38-member Cabinet, and they were sworn in along with him.

His nationally televised address generated scant reaction in the chamber until he turned to domestic matters. From then on, heckling interrupted him frequently.

Netanyahu looked tired after weeks of bargaining to assemble a ruling coalition. Besides his Likud Party, he got the support of three other right-wing parties, plus Labor. They hold 69 of the 120 seats in parliament.

To placate his new partners, he amassed the biggest Cabinet in Israel's history. New ministerial positions were created, including five without precise responsibilities. Carpenters had to work through the night to finish an extension to the Cabinet table in the chamber in time for the ceremony.

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