Amy Teibel
The Associated Press
February 15, 2010 - 1:00am

Israel's foreign minister on Monday accused the Western-backed Palestinian government of spearheading an international smear campaign against Israel and predicted that even if negotiations between the two sides resume, they would fail.

Avigdor Lieberman's tough comments could mean new trouble for U.S.-led efforts to restart peace talks, which broke down more than a year ago. U.S. envoy George Mitchell has spent months trying to bring the sides back to the negotiating table, but so far has been unable to break the deadlock.

Speaking to parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee, Lieberman said the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was behind some of the attempts to try ranking Israeli officials and military commanders abroad on war crimes.

"Most of the appeals against senior commanders around the world are financed by the Palestinian Authority and initiated by it," Lieberman said. It was not clear what, if any, independent proof he provided.

Palestinians and their supporters have unsuccessfully been trying to press authorities in Britain and other European countries to arrest visiting Israeli officials and military officers in connection with Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.

They have tried to use a legal concept known as universal jurisdiction, which allows judges in some countries to issue arrest warrants for nearly any visitor accused of committing war crimes anywhere in the world.

Lieberman told the committee Monday that he was expressing his own views, and not government policy, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sets. But other senior Netanyahu confidants share similarly skeptical views on peacemaking. Lieberman's ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party is the second-largest faction in Netanyahu's coalition government.

Lieberman, known for his pugnacious style, turned the table on Palestinians who frequently have questioned Israel's commitment to peacemaking.

"Every discussion the Palestinians conduct with international representatives starts with how they don't believe Israel's intentions are sincere. I don't believe their intentions are sincere," he said.

He also questioned Abbas' ability to deliver a peace deal, noting that the Palestinians are divided between two governments. Abbas' rival, the Islamic militant group Hamas, has controlled the Gaza Strip for nearly three years. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, rules only the West Bank.

"It's not clear Abu Mazen can deliver the goods at negotiations, He doesn't represent all Palestinians," Lieberman said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dismissed Lieberman's accusations.

"It seems to me that the problem is Israel's policy on the ground, with settlement activity and fait accompli actions on the ground, that's the problem," he said.

The Palestinians claim Gaza and the West Bank as parts of a future independent state, with east Jerusalem as their capital. Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

The Palestinians have said they will not resume peace talks until Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Israel has offered a limited slowdown on building in the West Bank, while saying it will never divide Jerusalem. Netanyahu says talks should begin without preconditions.


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