No chance of peace for years, says Israel's Foreign Minister

There is no chance of an early solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and people must "learn to live with it", the Israeli Foreign Minister warned yesterday.

"Anyone who says that within the next few years an agreement can be reached ending the conflict... simply doesn't understand the situation and spreads delusions, ultimately leading to disappointments and an all-out confrontation here," Avigdor Lieberman said in a radio interview.

He added: "I am going to say very clearly: there are conflicts that have not been completely solved and people have learnt to live with it, like Cyprus."

Mr Lieberman, the head of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, suggested that a long-term, interim deal with the Palestinians could ensure prosperity, security and stability, but tougher questions should be left until later.

"We have to be realistic," he said. "We will not be able to reach agreement on core and emotional subjects like Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees."

Mr Lieberman does not lead Israel's negotiating team and his ideas will not necessarily translate into his country's policy towards the Palestinians, which is set by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Nevertheless, the Foreign Minister's remarks overshadowed the arrival in Jerusalem of George Mitchell, America's Middle East envoy, who will try to get the stalled talks moving again.

The Palestinians have said they will not agree to an interim peace deal that would put off a resolution of the conflict indefinitely. The Islamist movement Hamas has said it is willing to agree to a long-term ceasefire but that it will not recognise Israel as a state.

Mr Mitchell met Mr Lieberman and the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, yesterday, and will hold talks with Mr Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, today.

The veteran negotiator tried to strike a determined, upbeat note on his arrival, despite rising tensions in Jerusalem and reports that more Israeli settlements are being laid out in Palestinian territories.

Speaking before talks with Israel's President, Shimon Peres, Mr Mitchell said: "We're going to continue with our efforts to achieve an early relaunch of negotiations... because we believe that is an essential step toward achieving the comprehensive peace."

Mr Abbas is expected to tell Mr Mitchell that he will not resume peace talks until Israel puts a freeze on the expansion of settlements in Palestinian areas, and until the two sides set out a clear agenda for negotiations.

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