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Netanyahu vows Israeli-Palestinian peace as ally Lieberman sows doubt

The Israeli prime minister met with US envoy George Mitchell today to shore up an Israeli-Palestinian peace process undermined by his foreign minister yesterday.

By Staff writer / September 29, 2010

In this April 6, 2009 file photo, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (r.) walks behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c.) during a session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem.

Dan Balilty/AP/File

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US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem today, seeking to shore up a recently renewed, but already flagging, round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that the talks would be called off in about a week if Israel doesn't extend a settlement freeze – a move the US had demanded as a confidence-building measure but now appears to be backing away from.

But even as Mitchell scrambled in Jerusalem, comments from Mr. Netanyahu's gadfly Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman laid bare stark disagreements within the Israeli elite. Such disagreement call into question the feasibility of President Barack Obama's one-year timeline for a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

Speaking at the UN on Tuesday, Mr. Lieberman – who leads the second-largest party in Netanyahu's coalition government – said a peace deal could take decades.

He also proposed a land swap in which predominantly Arab areas inside Israel could be incorporated into a future Palestinian state in exchange for the Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank – a proposal sharply at odds with Netanyahu's stated approach. The proposal received a predictably outraged response from Palestinian leaders.

Lack of unity on both sides

Lack of unity on both sides is a key theme that makes it hard to see fast progress for Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian's internal divide, with Hamas controlling Gaza and opposed to the current talks, is mirrored by Israel's own.

Hawks like Lieberman who argue the Palestinians are uninterested in peace, are arrayed against both the country's more conciliatory peace camp and Netanyahu, caught between US pressure and his coalition partners.

Lieberman spoke of the "utter lack of confidence between the sides and issues such as Jerusalem, recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and refugees" and said "under these conditions, we should focus on coming up with a long-term intermediate agreement, something that could take a few decades.”

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