JERUSALEM - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in remarks published Thursday it would be difficult to make progress in peace talks with Palestinians as long as armed Hamas Islamists control the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinians must first of all confront terror, take control of Gaza and demilitarize Hamas, right-winger Lieberman told Haaretz newspaper. Without these, it will be difficult to move forward, he said.
Lieberman angered Palestinians and raised the prospect of tension with Washington Wednesday by saying that Israel was not bound by an understanding to start negotiations on setting up a Palestinian state.
On his first day at the Foreign Ministry, Lieberman said the U.S.-sponsored Annapolis declaration of 2007 has no validity, confirming a shift in Israel's stance toward the Palestinians under new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The White House responded to those remarks by saying it was committed to working for a two-state solution. (We) understand that we will have frank discussions, a U.S. spokesman added.
Under understandings reached at the conference in Annapolis, Maryland, Israel and the Palestinians tried to revive peace negotiations by tackling core issues leading to statehood.
Lieberman, a Soviet immigrant denounced as a racist by many Arabs, told Haaretz however that Israel was only obliged to meet its commitments under a road map of 2003, which include removing unauthorized outposts and freezing settlement activity.
The road map, also backed by the United States, calls on Palestinians to stop attacks on Israel before any talks on the final shape of a statehood deal take place.
We will conduct talks with the Palestinian Authority, but we want to make sure their 'checks' don't bounce, Lieberman said. Israel undertook obligations regarding the road map and it will honor them, but there must be reciprocity.
Lieberman's remarks Wednesday confirmed that Netanyahu's government has withdrawn from its predecessor's commitment to negotiate on borders and issues such as the status of Jerusalem before the two sides are satisfied road map pledges are met.
That could push negotiations on statehood deep into the future. With Gaza in the hands of Hamas Islamists, many doubt Western-backed Palestinian leaders in the West Bank can meet Israeli security conditions for such talks any time soon.
Whoever thinks that he will achieve something by way of concessions - no, he will only invite more pressure and more wars, Lieberman told Haaretz.
If you want peace, prepare for war.
Netanyahu has not endorsed statehood for Palestinians, saying instead he wants to focus the talks on shoring up the Palestinian economy and security issues.
Lieberman's ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party is the biggest ally of Netanyahu's Likud in the cabinet.