Israeli prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday to pursue peace talks with the Palestinians as he prepared to present his new government to parliament next week.
"Peace... is a common and enduring goal for all Israelis and Israeli governments, mine included. This means I will negotiate with the Palestinian Authority for peace," the hawkish Netanyahu told a Jerusalem conference.
Washington has warned that peacemaking will not be any easier under Netanyahu -- who will head a right-leaning government and opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.
"I think that the Palestinians should understand that they have in our government a partner for peace, for security, for the rapid development of the Palestinian economy," he said.
Netanyahu has succeeded in pulling together a government six weeks after Israel's election, following Tuesday's agreement by the centre-left Labour party to join his coalition.
A senior Likud official said the swearing-in should take place on Monday or Tuesday.
His right-wing Likud was due to sign a fourth coalition agreement with the three-member far-right faction Jewish Home on Wednesday, a senior MP said, giving him a majority of 69 MPs in the 120-seats Knesset or parliament.
The Likud leader, who was premier between 1996 and 1999, opposes the creation of a Palestinian state for the moment, saying economic conditions in the occupied West Bank must first be improved.
Peace talks were revived to great fanfare in November 2007 but made little visible progress and finally ground to a halt during Israel's three-week war on Gaza in December and January.
"Building peace needs actions and not words," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
"Any Israeli government that freezes settlement construction and accepts a settlement based on a two-state solution and to negotiate on all final status issues, including Jerusalem, will be considered a partner for peace," he said, listing issues opposed by several members of Netanyahu's cabinet.
"It is critical for us to advance a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in their own states with peace and security," Obama told a press conference. "The status quo is unsustainable."
Obama was asked about prospects for peace with a Netanyahu cabinet, whose chosen foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has been dubbed a racist by critics because of repeated diatribes against Israeli Arabs.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's spokesman said Abbas's comments showed the new US administration is "serious about the peace process."
Labour voted to join Netanyahu's cabinet despite the opposition of many in the veteran party that launched the Oslo peace talks in the early 1990s.
Netanyahu's coalition comprises 27 MPs from Likud, 15 from Lieberman's ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, 11 from ultra-Orthodox Shas, 13 from Labour and three from Jewish Home.
In their coalition agreement, Netanyahu and Labour leader Ehud Barak remained vague on the issue, saying the cabinet will work "to reach a comprehensive regional peace agreement" and respect previous international agreements Israel has signed.
But the deal did not address the issue of a Palestinian state -- the creation of which is at the heart of the international roadmap to peace that has made little progress since its launch by major world powers in 2003.
And discord between the partners emerged on Wednesday, with Labour MPs saying peace talks will be continued while Likud MPs said the party would not accept the idea of creating a Palestinian state.
Despite his hardline rhetoric, Netanyahu signed several deals with the Palestinians during his first stint as premier. But he also authorised a major expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, one of the thorniest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Army radio said that as part of his coalition deal with Yisrael Beitenu, Netanyahu pledged to expand settlements in a highly contentious area just outside annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
Source: AFP Global Edition