Israel’s new foreign minister has said that the government is not bound by the agreement reached at the Annapolis conference in the US in 2007, which provides for a Palestinian state.
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, made the remarks at a handover ceremony at the foreign ministry on Wednesday, the day after a new broad coalition government was sworn in.
"There is one document that obligates us – and that’s not the Annapolis conference, it has no validity," he said.
"The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did parliament."
Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, agreed with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, at the Annapolis conference to further "the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine".
Lieberman said that Israel would, instead, follow the course set out in the so-called "road map", which made the creation of Palestinian state contingent on the Palestinians halting violence against Israel.
In Annapolis, Israelis and Palestinians tried to get past this issue by pledging to address "final status" issues that would resolve decades of conflict by establishing an independent Palestinian state on lands currently occupied by Israel.
The Israeli foreign minister also criticized the negotiations with the Palestinians that followed the agreement, saying that concessions would bring war rather than peace.
Tzipi Livni, his predecessor and Israel’s chief negotiator at Annapolis, interrupted the speech to disagree with him.
"Avigdor Lieberman clearly has problems with his medium-term memory as he was actually at a cabinet meeting in December 2, 2007 at which that agreement was ratified," Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Jerusalem, said.
"However, he did storm out of the meeting before the vote took place.
"What we seem to be seeing is the right-wing members of the new government trying to distance themselves from this very important agreement which was shepherded in by the Bush presidency and this will be met with some consternation by Barack Obama [Bush’s successor]."
Netanyahu, who officially took office on Wednesday, has said he will seek a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but has given few details and conspicuously refused to mention Palestinian demands for an independent state.
Anshel Pfeffer, a correspondent for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, told Al Jazeera: "Lieberman is putting down a marker, he obviously wants to start by presenting a tough position, which obviously later on he will have to adjust.
"I think the main thing we should be aware of is that the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian government … I think they will be put on the back burner."
‘Obstacle to Peace’
An aide to Abbas described Lieberman as an "obstacle to peace".
"This minister is an obstacle to peace. He will cause harm to Israel first," Yasser Abed Rabbo told the AFP news agency.
"Nothing obliges us to deal with a racist person hostile to peace such as Israeli foreign affairs minister Lieberman."
While Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for the Palestinian president, urged the US to oppose Lieberman’s remarks.
"This is a challenge to the international community and to the United States that adopted the two-state solution," he said.
"The United States should take a clear position against this policy before things get worse," he said.
The White House said that Barack Obama, the US president, remained committed to a two-state solution.
"The president has said many times that we are committed to the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security," Mike Hammer, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said.
"We look forward to working with the new Israeli government and understand that we will have frank discussions, and that these discussions will be based on an underlying shared commitment to Israel and its security."
Tony Blair, the envoy for the so-called Quartet of Middle East negotiators, said that there would be little chance of the violence that has beset the region ending unless the Palestinians were given their own state.
"The alternative to a two-state solution is a one-state solution. If there is a one-state solution there is going to be a big fight," he said.
Meanwhile, the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, the new prime minister, was strengthened when the five MPs of the United Torah Judaism party joined the coalition.
The move gave the coalition the support of 74 MPs in the 120-member Knesset.
United Torah Judaism had initially refused to join the coalition over differences with Yisrael Beitenu.
A poll in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on Wednesday indicated that 54 per cent of Israelis were already disappointed by the new government.
The criticism appeared to be largely focused on the size of the cabinet, which with 30 ministers is the largest in Israel’s 60-year history.
Forty-four percent of those surveyed said the government is "bloated and inefficient," while 33 per cent said it was "excessive, but Netanyahu had no other choice".
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)