Israel is not bound by the 2007 relaunch of US-backed peace talks with the Palestinians, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday, striking a hard line on his first day in office.
Lieberman’s rejection of the agreement signed in Annapolis, Maryland, signaled a hawkish new approach to the peace process that could put Israel at odds with the international community and main ally the US.
The Palestinians fired back, warning that Lieberman was an obstacle to peace and urging the international community to pressure Israel into honoring its past commitments.
“There is only one document that binds us and it is not the Annapolis conference,” Lieberman said at a handover ceremony at the foreign ministry a day after being sworn in by parliament. “Only the roadmap. The Israeli government and the Knesset [parliament] never adopted Annapolis.”
“We will go exactly according to the roadmap,” he said. “We will never agree to skip any of the stages — and there are 48 of them — and go straight to the last stage on negotiations on a permanent agreement.”
The roadmap is an international peace plan launched in 2003 under which Israel bound itself to the principle of a Palestinian state.
The agreement signed in Annapolis, Maryland reaffirmed the roadmap and launched negotiations aimed at creating that state by the end of last year.
New Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not support the two-state solution, saying the Palestinian economy needs to improve first.
Lieberman’s comments marked a sharp break with former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who had led the Israeli delegation to the talks, and drew fire from the Palestinians.
“This minister is an obstacle to peace. He will cause harm to Israel first,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Nothing obliges us to deal with a racist person hostile to peace such as Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Lieberman,” he said.
The row erupted hours after the hawkish Netanyahu began his second term as Israeli prime minister at the helm of a right-wing government.
The 59-year-old Netanyahu heads a coalition that includes his right-wing Likud, the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, ultra-Orthodox Shas and two small religious factions as well as the center-left Labour party.
In his inaugural address to the 120-seat parliament on Tuesday, Netanyahu said the biggest threat Israel faced was the possibility of “a radical regime armed with nuclear weapons” — a clear reference to arch-foe Iran.
Netanyahu made no mention of a future Palestinian state, but offered the Palestinians “all the rights to govern themselves except those that can put in danger the security and existence of the state of Israel.”
The Palestinians gave a cold reception to the new government, with Abbas saying that Netanyahu “does not believe in peace” and urging the international community to pile pressure on Israel.