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Palestinians hope for a softened Netanyahu

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 6:16 p.m.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinians have long complained that Israel's right-wing government is killing peace prospects by settling the West Bank with Jews, but now there is something new. The Palestinian president is warning that Benjamin Netanyahu's expected victory in next week's election could lead to an Arab-majority country in the Holy Land that will eventually replace what is now Israel — unless he pursues a more moderate path of a two state solution to the conflict.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been careful not to intervene in Tuesday's Israeli election, but it is no secret that the Palestinians hope that Netanyahu will either be ousted or at least soften his position in a new term. He has shown no sign of doing so, and polls showing pro-settlement parties well ahead days before the vote have left a sense of despair among Palestinians.

During Netanyahu's current term, the Israeli leader has pressed forward with construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which along with the Gaza Strip were captured by Israel in the 1967 war from Jordan. Abbas says he wants to set up a state in the territories that would exist peacefully next to Israel.

The international community considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate. And the Palestinians have refused to negotiate with Netanyahu while he continues to allow settlements to be built, saying it is a sign of bad faith.

Israeli backers of creation of a Palestinian state say relinquishing control of the Palestinian territories and its residents is the only way to ensure Israel's future as a democracy with a Jewish majority.

Mohammed Ishtayeh, a top aide to Abbas, told The Associated Press on Friday that his boss has been warning that won't be possible if settlement building continues and Israel could end up with a Jewish minority ruling over an Arab majority.

He warned Israel could end up with “an apartheid style state, similar to the one of former South Africa.”

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