No Palestinian state by 2012, Israeli envoy says

Comment puts Israel under new criticism

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JERUSALEM | Israel’s hard-line foreign minister said Tuesday there was “no chance” a Palestinian state would be established by 2012 — a message that threatened to cloud the latest visit by President Obama’s Mideast envoy.

The comments by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman drew swift Palestinian condemnations and could put Israel at odds with the international community, which has set a 2012 target for brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

“As an optimist, I see no chance that a Palestinian state will be established by 2012,” Mr. Lieberman said at a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “We can express interest, we can dream, but in reality, we are still far from reaching understandings and agreements on establishing an independent state by 2012.”

Russia, along with the U.S., European Union and United Nations, make up the “Quartet” of Mideast negotiators — an international group that has spent nearly a decade trying to forge a peace agreement.

Later Tuesday, Mr. Lavrov flew to Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said the talks with Mr. Aboul Gheit centered on Middle East peace talks and other regional issues.

White House envoy George Mitchell was set to mediate a fifth round of indirect talks between the sides starting Wednesday. Mr. Mitchell is trying to prod Israel and the Palestinians into direct negotiations.

It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Lieberman was expressing his own opinion or government policy. A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to comment.

Mr. Lieberman is a contentious figure because of his support for redrawing Israel’s borders to push areas with heavy concentrations of Arabs out of Israel and into Palestinian jurisdiction.

He also launched a failed effort in parliament to force Israeli Arabs to take a loyalty oath or lose their citizenship.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ West Bank government accused Mr. Lieberman of defying international efforts to wrap up a deal.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called Mr. Lieberman’s comments “a severe slap to the Palestinians and the Arabs who believe in the mirage of a peace agreement.”

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