Palestinian leader reaches out to Israel centrists

By Mohammed Daraghmeh And Karin Laub

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24 2013 10:42 p.m. MST

FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2007 file photo, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, left, and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas talk after a plenary session on the Middle East during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Palestinian president will invite Israeli politicians to the West Bank to try to make sure peacemaking is on the new government's agenda, a senior official said Thursday Jan. 24, 2013, as a top Israeli hard-liner proposed sidelining the polarizing issue.(AP Photo/Keystone/Alessandro della Valle, File)

Associated Press

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RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian president wants to meet with newly elected Israeli parliament members to lay out his views on peace, hoping a political surge of centrists will provide an opening to resume long-stalled negotiations on a Palestinian state, a senior aide said Thursday.

President Mahmoud Abbas' main target appears to be Yair Lapid, leader of the moderate Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, who is expected to be influential in setting the priorities of the next government.

Lapid has said he wants Israel to make a serious push for peace, though it is unclear how far he will press the issue in coalition negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In recent public appearances, he has barely breached the issue, focusing instead on domestic economic concerns.

In elections this week, Lapid's party emerged as the second largest with 19 of 120 seats in parliament, after Netanyahu's right-wing Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc that won 31 seats. Netanyahu will keep his job, but will have to bring other parties into his government to win a parliamentary majority, and Lapid's faction is seen as key to any stable coalition.

Netanyahu and Lapid met Thursday, two days after the election, though formal coalition negotiations will only start next week, and could take up to six weeks.

Lapid has campaigned on a domestic agenda that includes ending draft exemptions and government stipends for ultra-Orthodox Jews. But two incoming legislators from his party said Thursday that making peace with the Palestinians is just as important to him.

Hawkish and religious parties won a total of 61 seats, compared to 59 for center-left and Arab parties. But Netanyahu has said he wants a broad majority to ensure stability and address domestic issues.

Hoping to capitalize on the results, Abbas will invite representatives of Israeli parliament factions to discuss prospects for negotiations, Abbas aide Yasser Abed-Rabbo said.

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