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Netanyahu takes reins as Israel's prime minister

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Tel Aviv – It's official.

Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as Israel's prime minister late Tuesday – for his second go-around – after the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, voted 69-45 to confirm his coalition government. No big suprise there. Thus ends an eight-month lame-duck period and freeze in diplomacy after Ehud Olmert resigned because of corruption charges.

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In presenting his government – a mashup of the settler right, the ultra-Orthodox, and the leftist Labor party – Mr. Netanyahu confirmed his foreign policy priorities: stopping Iran's nuclear program and working on Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

He cited the spread of "extremist Islam'' throughout the Middle East as Israel's chief security crisis and a threat to to the rest of the world.

The crisis "is rooted in the rise and spread of extremist Islam in our region…. The biggest danger to humanity, and to our state, Israel, stems from the possibility that a radical regime will get nuclear weapons,'' he said.

In an interview with The Atlantic shortly before the speech, he expanded on how he sees the threat. The comments are revealing (though I couldn't find where exactly was what the Atlantic hyped as Netanyahu's "stark'' message warning of an Israeli unilateral attack).

As for Arab-Israeli peace, he said that Israel seeks a "full peace'' with the entire Arab and Muslim world, and insisted that moderate Arab states were just as threatened by "extremist Islam'' as Israel.

He also sought to extend his hand to the Palestinians, suggesting that progress toward peace was possible on three simultaneous tracks: economic, security, and politics. But Netanyahu doesn't envision a swift accord, and warned that taking "shortcuts'' to peace like previous negotiating efforts will be self-defeating. (For the Monitor's story on Netanyahu's outlook as he takes office, click here.)

The Palestinians, for their part, have said they won't negotiate with Netanyahu until the new Israeli government explicitly endorses a two-state solution to their conflict and stops settlement expansion.

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