Netanyahu: I will pursue national unity government

HERZLIYA, Israel (JTA) – Benjamin Netanyahu said he’d seek to assemble a national unity government if his party wins Israel’s elections next week.

Netanyahu, the Likud party leader and the front-runner in the race for prime minister, said Wednesday he’d offer all Zionist parties a place in his coalition government – a characterization that would exclude Israel’s Arab parties. The remark indicated Netanyahu would reach out to Kadima, the current party in power and Likud’s main rival in the race.

"We will have to put all our infighting, all our divisions, all the usual politics aside in a few days to meet the threats we face," Netanyahu said Wednesday evening.

Specifying the Iranian nuclear threat and Iran’s support for terrorists, notably the Hamas regime in Gaza, Netanyahu said "this double threat is the greatest threat Israel faces, and there is no other country that faces a threat like this."

He addded: "If chosen as prime minister, my greatest mission, and most important mission, will be to stymie the Iranian threat in all its forms."

"We have to unite the entire nation," Netanyahu said. "Next Tuesday the era of weakness will end, and the era of strengthening will begin."

Netanyahu made his remarks at the Herzliya Conference, an annual Israeli security summit. On the preceding two nights of the conference, the heads of Israel’s two largest parties, Ehud Barak of Labor and Tzipi Livni of Kadima, delivered addresses of their own.

Netanyahu also told the conference that Israel’s recent military operation in Gaza ended too early and that the IDF should have finished off Hamas. However, he offered praise for the IDF’s conduct during the war and Defense Minister Barak’s preparation for it.

Netanyahu stuck to his main campaign themes in his speech, championing his economic-based approach to the peace process with the Palestinians – first creating the economic conditions necessary for bolstering a moderate Palestinian leadership before signing a final-status agreement that would hand over much of the West Bank to the Palestinians. He also insisted that Washington welcomes new thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian front; his rivals have suggested the right-leaning Netanyahu would be on a collision course with the new administration in Washington.

Netanyahu heralded his relationships and meetings with U.S. figures from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to national security adviser James Jones and special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell.

"There is openness there to new ideas," Netanyahu insisted. "They understand a new way is needed."

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