JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he did not expect to come under pressure from the United States over the Middle East peace strategy of his right-leaning government.
“I think you are talking about something that I doubt existed for any length of time in the past and which I am convinced does not exist today,” the hawkish Netanyahu told reporters in reply to a question about possible U.S. pressure.
Netanyahu, who clashed with the Clinton administration while prime minister from 1996 to 1999, has shied away from endorsing the U.S.-backed goal of creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, alongside Israel.
U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed at a news conference on Tuesday Washington’s commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In his latest remarks, Netanyahu played down any notion of friction with Obama, saying the United States and Israel shared mutual interests and values, and ties between the two allies were especially strong.
Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, said he was confident he could present a new government next week, but did not mention a specific day.
Izzy Tapuchi, a senior Netanyahu advisor, said later in an interview with Israel Radio’s English service the new government could be presented by Tuesday. Israel held a parliamentary election on February 10.
Side-stepping a question on whether he backed Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu referred reporters to a coalition deal Likud reached with the center-left Labour Party of Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday.
Under that pact, Likud agreed to respect all of Israel’s international agreements — a formula that includes accords envisaging Palestinian statehood.
Netanyahu has spoken in the past of limiting Palestinian sovereignty over any territory they govern and banning them from establishing a military.
By including Labour in the coalition, Netanyahu avoided standing at the helm of a narrow right-wing government that officials from his party have said could have put him on a direct collision course with Washington.
But right-wing and Jewish Orthodox religious parties dominate the coalition and Avigdor Lieberman, an ultranationalist, is slated to become foreign minister.
On paper, Netanyahu commands up to 69 seats — 13 of them held by Labour — in the 120-member parliament. The margin could be cut if Labour legislators opposed to its coalition deal with Likud vote with the opposition.
In a speech on Wednesday in which he pledged his government would work to shore up the Palestinian economy, Netanyahu said he would negotiate peace, but did not mention the establishment of a state.
Netanyahu advisor Tapuchi also said the prime minister-designate was not likely to begin final status negotiations with the Palestinians in his first 100 days.
“This is something that Netanyahu will have to deal with later on, further down the line ... The right approach is to first deal with the economic issues and let’s see that we’ve really got a partner to deal with it,” Tapuchi said.
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in response the incoming Israeli government “must be committed in an explicit manner, without ambiguity, to the two-state solution.”
Editing by Jon Boyle