Image: Avigdor Lieberman
Dan Balilty  /  AP File
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is due to meet with U.S. envoy George Mitchell on Thursday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 10/8/2009 8:00:34 AM ET 2009-10-08T12:00:34

Israel's powerful foreign minister Thursday said he would tell a visiting U.S. Middle East envoy that there was no chance of reaching a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians for many years.

Peacemaking policy in Israel is decided by the prime minister's office, and not the foreign ministry. But Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman carries significant weight in Israeli decision-making, and his is a sentiment common among confidants of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lieberman is due to meet President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, in Jerusalem on Thursday to discuss, among other issues, the stalled peace process.

"I will tell him clearly, there are many conflicts in the world that haven't reached a comprehensive solution and people learned to live with it," Lieberman told Israel Radio.

'Spreading delusions'
Lieberman said that anyone who thinks the two sides can soon reach a deal ending their decades-old conflict "doesn't understand the situation and is spreading delusions."

What the two sides should do, he said, was to come up with a long-term interim arrangement that would ensure prosperity, security and stability, and leave the tough issues "to a much later stage."

This approach runs counter to U.S. efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal quickly. Obama has declared that establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is a vital U.S. interest. Also, Israel would not find a Palestinian partner for putting off a resolution to the conflict indefinitely.

Obama brought Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas together in New York last month in an effort to jumpstart talks that broke down months ago. So far, no breakthroughs have been announced.

Since the New York summit, Mitchell met with representatives of Netanyahu and Abbas in the United States, and returned to the region this week. He was to meet with Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday and has sitdowns planned with Netanyahu and Abbas for Friday.

Israeli media reported that a Mitchell aide told local journalists Wednesday that the envoy's visit was not likely to conclude with an announcement on talks resuming.

"We're going to continue with our efforts to achieve an early relaunch of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, because we believe that's an essential step toward achieving the comprehensive (Mideast) peace to which I earlier referred," Mitchell told reporters as he entered a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday.

Settlement construction
Lieberman's view does not bode well for U.S. attempts to restart negotiations.

Mitchell has been laboring for months to pressure Israel to curb settlement construction. Israel has agreed to limited and temporary restrictions on building in the West Bank, but has resisted a total freeze. It has rejected any limitations on construction in east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians want the West Bank and east Jerusalem for part of their future state, along with the Gaza Strip, now ruled by Islamic Hamas militants.

Abbas has said repeatedly that he wouldn't go back to the negotiating table without a freeze. He also demands that talks begin where they broke off, with a promise from Israel that all issues will be on the table. Netanyahu has said he wouldn't be bound by the previous Israeli government's actions.

Abbas could be hard-pressed to back down now that he's dropped efforts to bring Israel before a war crimes tribunal in connection with its winter war in the Gaza Strip.

Nearly 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the war, including hundreds of civilians. Israel, which lost 13 civilians and soldiers in the war, launched the campaign to end years of Hamas rocket fire on Israeli border towns.

More on: Israel | Avigdor Lieberman

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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