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Livni to lead peace team in new Israeli government

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni will be Israel's negotiator in talks with the Palestinians in the emerging coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his bloc said on Tuesday.

Livni, who heads the centrist HaTnuah party, would serve as justice minister and "negotiator with the Palestinians to reach an agreement that would end the conflict," Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu alliance said in a statement.

HaTnuah, which campaigned for renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians, is the first party to join Netanyahu's new coalition.

After the government comes into place, "a ministerial team for the peace process with the Palestinians will be formed headed by the prime minister and participated by the justice minister, defence minister and foreign minister," the coalition agreement read.

"The prime minister and justice minister will upon the formation of the new government act to renew the diplomatic process."

If Israel and the Palestinians reach a deal, it would be brought before the government and parliament for a vote, "and if necessary -- a referendum," the agreement stated.

Livni would also closely coordinate her actions with Netanyahu and "regularly report all the developments," with a representative of the premier attending all meetings and negotiations.

Peace talks have been stalled since September 2010, with Palestinians demanding Israel stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem before a resumption of negotiations, and Israel rejecting any pre-conditions to talks.

Rekindling the peace process will also be on the agenda on the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama, who announced he would be reaching the region in the spring, with Israeli media putting the date at March 20.

The agreement between Netanyahu and Livni's parties also states that a member of HaTnuah will receive the environment portfolio.

Livni has previously served as justice and foreign minister.

Netanyahu, whose rightwing Likud-Beitenu list won a narrow victory with 31 of the Knesset's 120 seats in last month's election, has been struggling to piece together a government facing key diplomatic and foreign policy issues.

He has repeatedly declared his desire for the "broadest possible national unity government" to lead the country through "a decisive period" of its history, listing moves to restart negotiations with the Palestinians as one of his top priorities.

Netanyahu and Livni will be issuing a joint statement at 1800 GMT.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130219/livni-lead-peace-team-new-israeli-government