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Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has expressed the hope that US President Barack Obama will limit his engagement with Iran to a set time and insist on a final outcome of dismantling its nuclear program.
In a briefing for Jerusalem Post editors and writers this week, Netanyahu noted that his "positive" meetings with Obama in Washington and Jerusalem had been mostly devoted to the Iranian issue.
He said that when Obama told him he wanted to engage Teheran, he told the president that the way Iran's nuclearization would be stopped was less important than the result.
Negotiations with Iran could be "closed-ended" with a closed-ended result, Netanyahu said. They could be limited to a few months and it could be made clear from the outset that the result of the talks would be that the Iranian nuclear program would be dismantled.
If Iran failed to dismantle its nuclear program, Obama had many options and none should be taken off the table, he said.
Netanyahu expressed a concern shared by European leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that engagement before June's Iranian elections could unintentionally boost President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
He said Obama might want to consider delaying engagement with Iran until after the vote.
But Netanyahu cautioned there was no guarantee that even if Ahmadinejad lost the election, whoever won would be better, as long as the regime of ayatollahs was still in power.
Israel must have a clear position on its red lines for negotiations with the Palestinians before discussing the matter with the Obama administration, Netanyahu said.
Israel should keep unpopulated areas in Judea and Samaria that are essential to its security, such as the Jordan Valley and Judean Desert, he said.
"It's important to understand what we want before we ask them what they want," he said. "Our vital interests include a united Jerusalem, not taking in a Palestinian population, and keeping maximum territory with minimum Palestinians," he said.
"But I don't think there is a deal right now because on refugees and Jerusalem, I don't think there is anyone on the Palestinian side who is willing to make the minimal concessions that the most conciliatory position in Israel would find acceptable."
Netanyahu believes that members of the Obama administration understand the need to build peace with the Palestinians from the ground up. He cited an interview Obama's national security adviser James Jones gave in November, in which he stressed the importance of a gradual approach of training Palestinian forces, building up their economy and improving their governance.
Regarding the question of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu said he did not want to govern a single Palestinian, but that he wanted to ensure that powers associated with statehood, such as borders, air space and electromagnetic space would remain under Israel's control to prevent rocket attacks and preserve Israel's security.
"It's not an all-or-nothing proposition," he said. "The Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves, but none to threaten the security and existence of the State of Israel."
Regarding his coalition should he win Tuesday's election, Netanyahu said Israel Beiteinu was definitely a candidate to join as part of a broad national-unity government, which would be easier to build the more votes the Likud received.
"If I win, first I'll establish a base from the supporting parties on the Right," Netanyahu said. "Then I will add either Labor, Kadima or both."
Netanyahu met with Barak on Tuesday and told him he was looking forward to cooperating with him in the next government. In closed conversations, Netanyahu said he wanted Barak as his defense minister.
"In the face of all the security challenges Israel is facing from Hamas in Gaza, Hizbullah in Lebanon and their Iranian sponsors, we need the best, most experienced, and most responsible people possible," Netanyahu said.
Kadima said Netanyahu's statements proved that "whoever votes Labor will receive Netanyahu, Shas and right-wing extremists, with Barak as their fig leaf."
After internal Likud polls predicted that Israel Beiteinu had risen to 19 seats by taking mandates from the Likud, the Likud decided on Tuesday night to begin a new campaign for the final days before the election under the slogan "A large Likud - a stable government."
The campaign aims to remind right-wing voters that the ruling party must be large in order to be able to govern.
Netanyahu further pursued right-wing voters when he threatened Hamas on Tuesday on a hastily arranged visit to the site in Ashkelon where a Grad missile had hit two hours earlier.
Netanyahu reiterated promises that a government under him would topple the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.
"A government under my leadership will overthrow the Hamas rule in Gaza and bring about a cessation of rocket fire," he said. "The policy of blindness followed in the past years has brought us to this situation.
"When action was finally taken, the IDF performed wonderfully. But the Livni-Kadima government did not allow the IDF to finish the job. Residents here can no longer count on miracles or on Kadima's policies."
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