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New Israeli government seeks 'historic compromise' with Palestinians

| Monday, March 18, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel is 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.”

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

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.

“The new government in Israel extends its hand for peace with our Palestinian neighbors,” Netanyahu said. “Israel has proven time and again that it is ready for compromises in return for genuine peace.”

“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, has backed building the settlements and retroactive authorization of some settlement outposts built without government permission.

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