The Associated Press
November 9, 2008 - 8:00pm

Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday pledged to continue negotiations with the Palestinians if he wins February elections, backing away from earlier hints he would abandon U.S.-backed peace talks.

But Netanyahu gave no indication he would make significant concessions.

Netanyahu refuses to discuss the future of the disputed city of Jerusalem, one of the ''core issues'' in negotiations for the past year. On Sunday, international Mideast mediators reaffirmed this framework, even as Netanyahu's office said he did not. Netanyahu's position on other key issues also falls far short of Palestinian and international demands.

His statement that peace talks would ''move forward'' if he is elected prime minister appeared to be aimed at easing international concerns and sending a message to the Israeli electorate that he can get along with the rest of the world.

Speaking to reporters after meeting international peace envoy Tony Blair, Netanyahu said that if his hawkish Likud party returns to power in February elections, he would emphasize efforts to boost the ailing Palestinian economy but would not halt political talks.

''We will move both the political negotiations forward and the economic peace that we've been working on,'' Netanyahu said.

A day earlier, his office said there was no point continuing the talks the talks inaugurated at an international conference in Annapolis, Md., last November.

The talks call on Israel and the Palestinians to resolve all outstanding issues between them, including the conflicting claims to the holy city of Jerusalem and a final border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu gave few details on his vision for peace. But in a recent speech to parliament, he said Israel would have to retain all of Jerusalem and large chunks of West Bank territory claimed by the Palestinians.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said if Netanyahu wins, ''we want to test these statements ... to see if he is serious or just maneuvering.''

Polls currently place Likud and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima neck and neck ahead of the Feb. 10 vote. Israel is holding the election, a year and a half ahead of schedule, because a corruption scandal is driving current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from office.

Livni has been leading Israel's negotiations for the past year and has acknowledged that Israel will have to make tough concessions for peace.


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