JERUSALEM // The US president Barack Obama's Middle East envoy today told Israel's ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, that Washington wants to see the creation of a Palestinian state. With Mr Libeerman at his side, George Mitchell told reporters: "I reiterated to the foreign minister that US policy favours, with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a two-state solution which will have a Palestinian state living in peace alongside the Jewish state of Israel. "We look forward also to efforts to achieving comprehensive peace throughout the region." Mr Lieberman has rejected restarting statehood negotiations with the Palestinians that were launched by the then-US president George W Bush at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland in 2007.
In his comments to reporters, Mr Lieberman made no mention of a Palestinian state, an issue that could put the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-leaning government on a collision course with Mr Obama. "It was a great opportunity to exchange some ideas, and we spoke about really close co-operation," Mr Lieberman said about his meeting with Mr Mitchell. Mr Mitchell, a former US senator who mediated in the Northern Ireland peace process, planned to hold talks later in the day with Prime Minister Netanyahu and see the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas tomorrow. Mr Netanyahu has so far refused to commit himself to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
He has said he wants to focus any future peace negotiations with the Palestinians on economic and security matters, rather than thorny issues such as statehood borders, and the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Mr Mitchell said Mr Lieberman told him about Israel's desire to "make economic improvements" in the West Bank. Palestinian leaders have rejected any notion of an "economic peace" and have said the US-backed talks with Israel could not resume until Mr Netanyahu committed to statehood. Mr Mitchell is on his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories since Netanyahu's government was inaugurated on March 31. *Reuters