(photo credit: AP)
Israel needs to strengthen Palestinian moderates by bolstering PA security forces with the help of the international community, along with rapid economic development of their economy, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday.
The remarks by Netanyahu, who is expected to be tasked with forming the next government, were the first indication that he is inching to the center as he seeks to bring the ruling Kadima Party into his coalition.
"We need to strengthen the Palestinian moderates and weaken the radicals by pursuing rapid economic growth and bolstering the security apparatus of the Palestinian security authority," Netanyahu told a gathering of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.
"If the Palestinian Authority is willing to work with us, together with the US administration and perhaps other governments, we can move very rapidly to change reality on the ground, which is worth one thousand peace conferences," he said.
The Likud leader pointed to the success of the recent American training of Palestinian security forces in Jenin, noting that the Fatah-run Palestinian areas in the West Bank remained relatively calm during the recent bruising 22-day military operation against Hamas in Gaza.
"A combination of political talk and rapid economic development is the best way to create a new reality in the PA," Netanyahu said in his address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who are holding their annual Israel event.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he aims to focus on improving the economic situation in the West Bank since no peace agreement is possible with the divided Palestinians in the foreseeable future, but has previously stopped short of advocating propping up the Fatah-run Palestinian government in the West Bank.
In his remarks, Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to further unilateral withdrawals but, in a new twist, added that "doing nothing also has its consequences."
The conservative leader restated his goal of forming a national unity government, over and beyond "the national camp," but said that a new direction was needed for the county.
"It is not enough to have a national unity government," he said, it also needed to "move in the right direction."
Netanyahu also said that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons could torpedo any movement with the Palestinian moderates.
"The greatest task of our time is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," he said.
In an earlier address, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Israel would need to give up part of the Land of Israel in order to maintain its identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
"I believe that the vast majority of Israelis believe that to keep Israel as a Jewish state as a democratic state, [the way] is by dividing land," Livni said.
The centrist leader, who is vying with Netanyahu to lead the country, added that it was in Israel's interest to take the initiative so as to ward off unfavorable international proposals.
"The ultimate goal is to keep Israel a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel," she said.
Livni also urged the US government and the West to boycott the upcoming UN conference on racism, known as "Durban II" and due to be held in Geneva in April, amid Israeli concerns that it will turn into an anti-Israel bash.
"There is no need to see where Durban II is going; it is a continuation of Durban I. This is something that Israel and the international community cannot afford," she said.