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Netanyahu softens Palestine stance

Days after winning Israel's election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be backtracking from hard-line statements that ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Mr Netanyahu has said in a TV interview that he remains committed to Palestinian statehood - if conditions in the region improve. He told MSNBC: "I haven't changed my policy."

During the final days of the campaign, Mr Netanyahu said he would not agree to establish a Palestinian state in the current climate - a position that drew heavy criticism from Washington. The two-state solution is a key US foreign policy objective.

Mr Netanyahu said he believes Israel cannot yield captured land to the Palestinians because it will be taken over by Islamic extremists, but said he would support Palestinian independence if circumstances change.

Mr Netanyahu said in today's interview that he remains committed to Palestinian statehood - if conditions in the region improve. He said he remains committed to the vision first spelled out in a landmark speech at Israel's Bar Ilan University in 2009.

"I haven't changed my policy," he said. "I never retracted my speech."

At the time, he said he would agree to a demilitarised Palestinian state which recognises Israel as the Jewish homeland. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to offer such recognition, and last year formed a unity government backed by the Hamas militant group. Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction.

In the interview, Mr Netanyahu also pointed to the presence of hostile Islamic groups across the region and said that any captured territory handed over to Mr Abbas would be taken over by militants. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, shortly after Israeli withdrew.

"I don't want a one-state solution, I want a sustainable peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change," Mr Netanyahu said. "And every territory that is vacated in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces."

A day before the election Mr Netanyahu told the nrg news website that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch because of the current climate in the region.

"Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand. The left is doing that, burying its head in the sand time after time," he said in the video interview. When asked if that means a Palestinian state will not be established if he is elected, he replied: "Indeed."

The remarks drew heavy criticism from Washington, which said it was re-evaluating its options after Mr Netanyahu's hardline comments.

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