JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said his government would immediately get to work on Mideast peace issues, promising to present a diplomatic agenda in the coming weeks.
Speaking at the first meeting of his Cabinet, Netanyahu said he planned to appoint himself and 11 other ministers to the Security Cabinet, a select body that deals with the nation's most pressing security and political issues. "In the coming weeks, we shall complete our policy guidelines for progress on peace and security," he said.
Netanyahu has sent mixed signals about his diplomatic program in recent weeks. Elected on a platform highly critical of his predecessor's peace talks with the Palestinians, he took a softer line when he was sworn into office last week, telling parliament he would pursue a "full peace" with the Arab and Muslim world.
However, Netanyahu has given few details about his program and has so far refused to endorse the idea of an independent Palestinian state. Palestinian independence is a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Mideast, and the Palestinians have said that if Netanyahu does not commit to a two-state solution, there is no point in negotiating.
Appearing on a late-night Israeli TV interview program, Netanyahu gave an indication of his stern policy in a brief reference to Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza. "One thing I can promise you," he said, "there will be no rocket fire without a response."
On Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the new Israeli government would have to accept the creation of a Palestinian state, stop construction in West Bank Israeli settlements and remove army roadblocks crippling life in the West Bank "so that we can resume dialogue in order to reach a political solution." Abbas was speaking during a visit to Baghdad.
Netanyahu's hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, raised additional concerns on his first day in office when he dismissed as meaningless the past year of U.S.-led peace negotiations and said concessions to the Palestinians only invite war.
In peace talks over the past year, the U.S. has pushed the sides to resolve the issues at the core of their conflict, such as final borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem. No apparent progress has been made.
Also high on Netanyahu's agenda is Iran's nuclear program. Netanyahu believes Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and has called on the international community to prevent this. Iran says its program is peaceful.
Upon taking office last week, Netanyahu stressed that Israelis "know how to protect" their country — a possible hint that Tehran's nuclear facilities could be struck if the international community fails to stop its nuclear activities.
Netanyahu's government also is dealing with a sudden surge in violence. Last week, a Palestinian attacker infiltrated a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and killed a 13-year-old boy with a pickax. The attacker is still at large.
Over the weekend, a 16-year-old girl from an Israeli Arab town opened fire at a police station in southern Israel before she was shot and killed.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the girl was an 11th-grade student from the Bedouin township of Hura in southern Israel. He gave her name as Basma Awad al-Nabari.
He said police were trying to determine whether the girl had acted on her own or coordinated the attack with an organized militant group.