JERUSALEM October 8, 2009 -- On the day that U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived for his latest effort to kick-start peace talks, Israel's outspoken foreign minister poured cold water on the prospects for progress.
"I will tell him [Mitchell] clearly there are many conflicts in the world that haven't reached a comprehensive solution and people learned to live with it," Avigdor Lieberman told Israel's Army Radio in an interview ahead of his meeting with Mitchell today.
Lieberman is an influential member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government and his right-wing party, Israel Our Home, achieved surprising success in this year's general election.
Lieberman is well known for his extreme views and seems unafraid to express them. He warned today that there was little chance of Israelis and Palestinians reaching a comprehensive peace agreement in the foreseeable future.
"Whoever says that it's possible to reach, in the coming years, a comprehensive agreement that means the end of the conflict ... simply doesn't understand the reality," he said.
The timing of the comments, coinciding with Mitchell's arrival in Jerusalem, risked causing some embarrassment.
As an alternative, Lieberman suggested a so-called intermediate agreement, leaving the most difficult issues to be resolved much later. It is an approach the Palestinians have consistently rejected, suspicious Israel will use the time to consolidate further territorial control of the Occupied Territories.
Mitchell started his day by meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres and re-stated the Obama administration's desire to reach the kind of peace deal Lieberman thinks is impossible.
U.S. Firmly Committed to Peace
"President Obama and the U.S. government remain deeply and firmly committed toward achieving a comprehensive peace," he said. "They believe there is no alternative to that if all the people of the region are to be able to live in peace."
Despite his senior position in government, it's unclear how involved Lierberman is in the peace talks. At one point, he refused to participate in discussions about an Israeli settlement freeze, saying he had a vested interest in the matter because he himself lives in a West Bank settlement.