U.S. and Israel disagree sharply on Palestinian state

Obama envoy sees new leaders

The Associated PressApril 17, 2009 

  • U.S. envoy George Mitchell meets today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose government controls only the West Bank.

— Stark differences between U.S. and Israeli policy toward peace talks with the Palestinians emerged clearly Thursday in the first meetings between President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy and top leaders of the new Israeli government.

The envoy, George Mitchell, emphasized that the U.S. is aiming for creation of a Palestinian state. But Israelis avoided mention of Palestinian statehood, and the new foreign minister said past Israeli concessions have led to violence, not peace.

Mitchell, who met Thursday evening with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, used the term "Jewish state of Israel" twice in public statements Thursday.

Netanyahu has yet to make public his policy on peace efforts but has spoken of shifting the emphasis to stimulating the Palestinian economy instead of supporting the process accepted by the U.S. and Israel up to now -- direct negotiations toward a full peace treaty between two states.

Mitchell made the administration's goals clear to reporters while standing next to Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, after their meeting.

"U.S. policy favors ... a two-state solution, which would have a Palestinian state living in peace alongside the Jewish state of Israel," Mitchell said.

In a statement, Lieberman questioned the basic premise that compromises by both sides would eventually lead to a peace accord.

"The historic approach has so far not brought any result or solution," a statement from Lieberman's office said. "The minister also said that the new government will have to come up with new ideas and a new approach."

Lieberman reinforced his public position that a year of apparently fruitless peace negotiations, which began after a U.S.-sponsored conference in Annapolis, Md., in November 2007 under the previous government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, were misdirected. Livni ran against Netanyahu in Israel's February 10 election.

Olmert has said he offered the Palestinians all of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, parts of Jerusalem, an exchange of territory and a corridor through Israel between the West Bank and Gaza, but the Palestinians turned it down.

"Past prime ministers were prepared to make wide-ranging concessions, and the result of the Olmert-Livni government was the second Lebanon war, the operation in Gaza, severance of relations with Qatar and Mauritania, Gilad Schalit still in captivity and the peace process at a dead end," Lieberman's statement said. Schalit is an Israeli soldier held by Hamas-linked militants in Gaza for nearly three years.

In response, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said it means Israel will not conduct peace talks. "It's very obvious that this government rejects a two-state solution and the agreements [already] signed," he told The Associated Press by telephone.

Mitchell also met Thursday with President Shimon Peres, who tried to ease concerns that Israel might attack Iran's nuclear facilities if international pressure fails to stop development of nuclear weapons that could threaten Israel.

"Talk of a possible Israeli attack on Iran is not true," Peres told Mitchell. "The solution to Iran is not military."

Israel sees a nuclear Iran as the most serious threat to its existence. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction and Tehran has tested long-range missiles that could strike Israel.

Israel has kept the military option open.

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