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Abbas wants to meet with Israel's new lawmakers

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- The Palestinian president wants to meet with newly elected Israeli parliament members, hoping a political surge by centrists will provide an opening to resume long-stalled negotiations on a Palestinian state, a senior aide said yesterday.

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 broached 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.

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

"We invite the Israeli parties, particularly the new ones, for dialogue on future accords," Abed Rabbo said.

He did not say when the invitations would go out, but emphasized that Abbas wanted the meeting to take place before Israel forms its next government.

Asked whether Lapid would accept the invitation, Lapid's office said: "These are sensitive issues which are not to be dealt with through the media."

Israeli-Palestinian talks on the terms of Palestinian statehood have been frozen since Netanyahu took office four years ago.

Netanyahu and Lapid met yesterday, two days after the election, though formal coalition negotiations could take up to six weeks.

Lapid 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 that making peace with the Palestinians is just as important to him.

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