Israeli foreign minister dampens peace talks expectations

Israeli foreign minister dampens peace talks expectations

Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday played down hopes of a peace deal being struck with Palestinians within a year, saying the sides were too far apart, DPA reported.

Lieberman was speaking ahead of a key meeting in Washington next week aimed at re-starting direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"It will be another festive event, just like other festive events," Lieberman, who is considered a hawk, told Israel Radio.

The meeting in Washington is expected to be attended by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though their presence has not yet been officially confirmed.

Top officials from the United States, Jordan and Egypt are also expected to attend.

In a statement announcing the meeting, the Quartet comprising the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations said the talks could be completed within a year.

But Lieberman, who who heads the ultra-nationalist Yisrael B'Teinu party in Netanyahu's coalition, scoffed at the idea.

"It is clear that the sides are so different in their basic approach that it's difficult to talk about a peace treaty within a year. I think the more we lower expectations, the healthier it will be," he said.

"No one has suddenly discovered a magic prescription making it clear that we can embark on a path that within one year would bring us to a permanent solution which would end the conflict, a solution to all the complex issues like refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, and so on," he said.

"I do not see such a magic solution," he added.

The foreign minister reiterated his view that Israel should continue building settlements inside the West Bank once a partial 10- month construction moratorium ends next month.

In November, following months of US pressure, Netanyahu announced a partial and limited freeze on construction inside Israeli West Bank settlements. Palestinians rejected the freeze, which did not include East Jerusalem.

The last round of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians ended in late 2008, when Israel entered the election campaign that brought Netanyahu to power.

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