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With vote looming, Likud says one thing and Netanyahu another

There are mixed messages coming out of Israel's ruling party. For now, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that his re-election would not preclude the possibility of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has denied reports that he said his re-election would keep Israel from ceding land to Palestinians.

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu's Likud party had promised that Israel would not withdraw from the West Bank or East Jerusalem if the prime minister won re-election to a third consecutive term next week. The declaration came as Netanyahu's right-wing party fought for the votes of hard-line Zionist Israelis ahead of the March 17 parliamentary election.

"There will be no concessions and no withdrawals," read a statement released by his Likud party. Netanyahu said, however, "no such thing," according to the Israeli prime minister's office.

The centrist Yediot Ahronot, Israel's biggest-selling daily, reported that one of the prime minister's top envoys had engaged in secret negotiations with a representative of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. According to the prime minister's office, the statement reflects Netanyahu's long-held position.

Yediot reported that the 2013 document showed Netanyahu's interest in a land swap and a withdrawal from large parts of the West Bank, which would have involved uprooting

numerous settlements

.

Israel is still reeling from the international response to

the country's bloody 50-day war

on Gaza last summer.

'His true face'

The UN has long pushed for the creation of a Palestinian state on lands captured by Israel in the 1967 war. In 1993, the governments signed an interim agreement to lead to the end of the conflict.

Negotiations have occurred since. The most recent talks broke down last year.

Centrist and left-leaning political parties in Israel have announced that they support the resumption of peace efforts with the Palestinians. Late on Saturday, tens of thousands of centrist and left-leaning

Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv

, calling for change and for Netanyahu to "go home."

Hardline Zionists and right-wing Israeli activists have planned a counterdemonstration in Jerusalem next Saturday night, just days before the elections. Netanyahu's Likud has fallen in to a head-to-head race with the Zionist Camp, a coalition of the Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog and former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Possible coalition with Zionists, ultra-Orthodox parties

Almost all recent opinion polls have predicted that the Zionist Camp would win one or two mandates more than the Likud. However, barring last-minute surprises, analysts agree that Netanyahu has a much better chance of forming a coalition, likely to include hardline and ultra-Orthodox parties.

For the Zionist vote, Netanyahu must compete with the pro-settler Jewish Home Party of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and the ultranationalist Israel Beiteinu Party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu

gave a politically controversial speech

in the United States, skirting US President Barack Obama and going straight to Congress to demand that Iran not be permitted nuclear technology.

mkg/cmk (dpa, AP)

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