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Netanyahu backs off Palestine statement, Arab warning

Benjamin Netanyahu says the Palestinian Authority should cut out Gaza Strip rulers Hamas and engage Israel in "genuine" peace talks. The prime minister has begun laying the groundwork for forming his next government.

On Thursday, Netanyahu denied

abandoning his commitment

to

a Palestinian state

, but said conditions had made that possibility remote.

"I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution," Netanyahu told the US news channel MSNBC on Thursday.

Netanyahu also called himself "proud to be the prime minister of all Israeli citizens - Arabs and Jews alike." On Tuesday,

election day

, he had triggered outrage by warning that Arabs had begun "turning out in droves" to vote.

On Wednesday, the United States announced that Netanyahu's win would have

no effect on international efforts

to negotiate an end to Iran's nuclear program. Relations between Netanyahu and the Obama administration

have soured

.

'Narrow right-wing government'

Aides say Netanyahu plans to form a government of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties within a month and hopes to add the Kulanu party, headed by former communications minister Moshe Kahlon, to get 67 of the Knesset's 120 seats. Kahlon, who champions ambitious socioeconomic reforms, has demanded the finance minister post.

President Reuven Rivlin will consult the heads of the Knesset's various factions starting Sunday. Should all go well, he would name Netanyahu prime minister-designate Wednesday, when the Central Elections Committee (CEC) would formally present him with the results of the country's March 17 election. Under Israeli law, Netanyahu would then have 28 days to form a coalition.

Netanyahu can also ask Rivlin for a 14-day extension. However, aides say that given the prime minister's strong victory, he did not foresee the need for an extension and wanted the new government in place by Independence Day, on April 23.

Final results published Thursday gave Netanyahu's nationalist Likud party 30 seats, making it the biggest party in the Knesset. The centrist Zionist Camp list, headed by Labor Party head Isaac Herzog and former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, won 24. The Joint List of mostly Arab parties came in third with 13 mandates, one less than predicted in near-final results Wednesday.

On Thursday, Herzog said he would take on the role of an aggressive opposition leader.

"We are today a very large camp and that camp will most likely sit in the opposition and challenge a narrow right-wing government that ... won't be able to give the people of Israel the solutions that it needs," Herzog said in his first interview since Tuesday's polls.

mkg/lw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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