President Obama remains committed to a two-state solution in the Middle East, but comments from Israel's new foreign minister rejecting the most recent U.S.-backed peace plan could create new roadblocks on an already bumpy road to peace, observers said.
U.S. officials Wednesday reiterated the president's commitment to bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, despite the first public comments by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying that Israel was not bound to a 2007 U.S-backed agreement on potentially creating a Palestinian state.
"The Obama administration is committed to seeking a two-state solution for a resolution of differences between Israel and the Palestinians," said Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman.
By rejecting the process Israel accepted at Annapolis, Md. in 2007, Lieberman was challenging the U.S. on a long-held foreign policy position, said Tony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an ABC News consultant.
"It is quite clear that the efforts on the part of the president to pursue a two-state solution are going to be more difficult under Netanyahu and a foreign minister who represents the radical right," said Cordesman.
At a handover ceremony Wednesday attended by outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and a roomful of foreign diplomats, Lieberman -- a member of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, a faction of Prime Minister Ben Netanyahu's new rightist coalition -- said the government would not recognize the process launched at Annapolis and that making concessions to the Palestinians would only lead to more wars.
"The government of Israel never approved the Annapolis process. The government of Israel and the state of Israel never approved Annapolis," Lieberman said.
Lieberman, however, did not completely reject talking with the Palestinians, and his comments seemed to suggest Israel still is willing to start talks based on the 2002 so-called "roadmap to peace."
"It does not sound like he completely rejected negotiations with the Palestinians," said Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
"The key point is that there is not going to be any progress in talks under any rubric -- Annapolis or the roadmap -- unless they're based on the fundamental understanding of land for peace and a two-state solution," said Djerejian, who drafted the roadmap in 2002.
"If Israel is really departing from that premise, it's going to be problem for Obama," said Djerejian.
Wednesday was both Lieberman and Netanyahu's first day in office, and it remains to be seen if Lieberman's comments were gaffes by a neophyte politician used to addressing his nationalist base and not the entire world, or a fundamental shift in Israeli policy.
"Netanyahu is going to have to clarify what his country's position is," said Dejerjian. "This is an early statement from newly formed government that has to be clarified. Ultimately, Netanyahu speaks for his government."
The Obama administration seemed to give Netanyahu a pass, answering questions about Lieberman's comments by repeating previous remarks made by Netanyahu in support of a two-state solution.
"As for statements made, or comments made, I point you to Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments, that he will work for peace with the Palestinians and peace in the region," Duguid told the press Wednesday.
While attending the G-20 conference in London, President Obama called the newly sworn in prime minister to congratulate him and reiterate the U.S. position on the peace process.
Lieberman was a contentious figure well before being named foreign minister. His hardline positions on the peace process and calls during the election to require loyalty oaths from Israeli Arabs, raised the concerns among moderate Palestinians and some members of the international community.
An increasingly sidelined Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that Netanyahu "doesn't believe in peace" and urged the international community to pressure him into accepting a two-state solution.
Lieberman's comments were primarily intended to send a message to his nationalist base and not the international community or President Obama, said Cordesman, adding that Lieberman would have said the same thing regardless of who the American president was.
"Lieberman had to know the kind of reaction he would get," Cordesman said. "He would have made the same comment and gotten the same reaction if John McCain or George W. Bush was president. The two-state solution is a part of U.S. policy, and it is a policy backed by virtually every member of Congress and virtually every Jewish American group, though some have caveats."
Obama has made that widely accepted policy his own policy, repeatedly echoing the position that the U.S. should support a process that provides for Israel security and gives the Palestinians their own state.
"I do believe that we've got to advance a Middle East peace process that not only provides Israel security but also provides a two-state solution in which a Palestinian state and an Israeli state can live side-by-side in peace and security. And I won't -- I don't think those two things are contradictory. I think they're complementary," Obama said while campaigning in September.
In the same years that the Palestinian leadership fractured with Hamas militants taking over Gaza and launching rocket attacks into Israel and moderates ruling in the West Bank, Israel has been consistent -- even under conservative governments -- in its policies regarding a two-state solution and ending Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories.
Lieberman looks to want to upend the two-state policy and Netanyahu has advocated for overturning a ban on new settlements, both of which could give Obama problems in pursuing his plan for peace.
"Given that in the Mideast it is so easy for things to go off the rails, it is vital that the U.S. and the new Israeli government meet and reach a series of understandings on the road ahead including the settlements issue," said David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"While I think neither side wants to pick a fight, there could be some tension if a common approach is not reached," he said. "The U.S. has committed itself to a two-state solution living side-by-side with security arrangements, and therefore it is important to have a wide-ranging dialogue with the Netanyahu government."