Agence France Presse (AFP)
July 14, 2009 - 12:00am

Israel on Monday rejected a European Union call for the United Nations to recognise a Palestinian state by a certain deadline even if Israel and Palestinians fail to agree on a peace deal.

"A peace agreement can come only following direct negotiations and cannot be imposed," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told public radio.

Lieberman was commenting on a speech by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in London on Saturday in which he called for the international community to set a deadline for recognising the state of Palestine.

"The mediator has to set the timetable," Solana said, according to a transcript of his speech. "If the parties are not able to stick to it, then a solution backed by the international community should... be put on the table.

"After a fixed deadline, a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution. This should include all the parameters of borders, refugees, Jerusalem and security arrangements," he said.

"It would accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN, and set a calendar for implementation. It would mandate the resolution of other remaining territorial disputes and legitimise the end of claims." A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said UN recognition would be "one option if Israel derails the efforts of US President Barack Obama's administration and its vision of a two-state solution". "Europe, as a member of the international Quartet, must continue in its efforts to apply pressure to Israel to freeze the settlements and stop wasting time," Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.

But the Israeli foreign ministry blasted Solana's call, which would effectively impose a solution to the decades-old Middle East conflict.

"Any approach that calls for an artificial deadline undermines the prospects of actually reaching a bilateral agreement," it said in a statement.

Israel has come under increasing pressure from its closest ally Washington to take steps in the stalled peace process, such as freezing all settlement activity on occupied land, but the right-leaning government led by hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to do so.

Israel and the Palestinians revived peace negotiations at an international conference in November 2007, but the talks were put on ice after Israel launched its war against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in December.

The Palestinians have said they will not return to the negotiating table unless Israel freezes all settlement activity, one of the main obstacles in the hobbled peace process.

On Sunday, Netanyahu called on Abbas to meet him to restart talks. "I say to the leader of the Palestinian Authority, let's meet to reach a political and economic peace," he said at Israel's weekly Cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu has said he will not allow new settlements to be built but will permit construction in occupied East Jerusalem and existing settlement blocs that Israel intends to keep in any future peace deal.

The premier has spoken on the phone with Abbas since being sworn into office on March 31, but he has yet to meet the Palestinian leader.


Lieberman fanned the flames of a diplomatic feud on Monday when he cast doubt on the right of Abbas to represent the Palestinians.

"The more Abu Mazen's authority and legitimacy decline, the more he increases his demands and the more rigid he becomes in his attitude," Lieberman told Israeli public radio, referring to Abbas by his popular nickname.

"Today you have Fateh-land in Judea and Samaria [the Hebrew name for the occupied West Bank] and Hamastan in Gaza," Lieberman told Israeli radio, referring to Abbas' Fateh Party and the Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza.

"And who exactly does Abu Mazen represent? Only half the people, at best." Lieberman went on to mock remarks made by Abbas to an Egyptian newspaper that he should be replaced as foreign minister, calling it a "compliment". "All of Abu Mazen's demands are simply a reflection of his distress and inability to conduct negotiations and spearhead a true political process," he added. "The demand for a [settlement] freeze is not legitimate either." Lieberman's comments drew an angry response from the Palestinian leadership, which accused him of using "diversion tactics" to mask Israel's failure to halt settlement building in the West Bank.

"Israel's foreign minister is hoping to deflect attention away from Israel's refusal to implement its obligations," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

Monday's fiery exchange was the latest in a row that erupted over the weekend after Abbas told the Egyptian press that Israel would be better off without its outspoken foreign minister.

Netanyahu had "painted himself into a corner" by bringing Lieberman's ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party into his government, Abbas told Egypt's October weekly magazine.

The Palestinian president said that Tzipi Livni, the leader of the opposition and one of Lieberman's chief political adversaries, "would have been much better" as a coalition partner.

Livni was foreign minister under the previous government led by Ehud Olmert, who joined with Abbas to relaunch the peace process under US auspices at an international conference in November 2007.


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