Israel is not bound by the 2007 relaunch of U.S.-backed peace talks with the Palestinians, new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday, striking a hard line on his first day in office as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in to his second term saying he did not support a two-state solution.
Netanyahu was sworn in on Tuesday, pledging to seek peace with the Palestinians, without uttering the words "Palestinian State," amid international concern his largely right-wing cabinet could bury negotiations.
Returning to power 10 years after he was voted out as prime minister, Netanyahu also hit out at Iran and "extremist Islam" for threatening Israel's existence.
Lieberman's rejection of the agreement signed in Annapolis, Maryland signaled a hawkish new approach to the peace process that could put Israel's new right-wing government at odds with the international community and main ally the United States.
The Palestinians fired back, warning that Lieberman was an obstacle to peace and urging the international community to pressure Israel into honoring its past commitments.
"There is only one document that binds us and it is not the Annapolis conference," Lieberman said at a handover ceremony at the foreign ministry a day after being sworn in by parliament.
"Only the roadmap. The Israeli government and the Knesset (parliament) never adopted Annapolis," he said.
"We will go exactly according to the roadmap," he said. "We will never agree to skip any of the stages -- and there are 48 of them -- and go straight to the last stage on negotiations on a permanent agreement."
The roadmap is an international peace plan launched in 2003 under which Israel bound itself to the principle of a Palestinian state.
The agreement signed in Annapolis reaffirmed the roadmap and launched negotiations aimed at creating that state by the end of 2008.
There is only one document that binds us and it is not the Annapolis conference
Israel\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s new FM
Israel's new Prime Minister, Netanyahu, said he did not support the two-state solution until the Palestinian economy was improved.
Lieberman's comments marked a sharp break with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni who had led the Israeli delegation to the talks, and drew fire from the Palestinians.
"This minister is an obstacle to peace. He will cause harm to Israel first," Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, told AFP.
"Nothing obliges us to deal with a racist person hostile to peace such as Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Lieberman," he added.
The row erupted hours after the hawkish Netanyahu began his second term as Israeli prime minister at the helm of a right-wing government.
"A difficult task lies ahead of us and we must start working immediately," Netanyahu said at a change of power ceremony in the presence of President Shimon Peres and former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Peres told Netanyahu that the world backed the Palestinian quest for a state, a goal the incoming right-wing leader is yet to endorsed.
"The government you lead must make a supreme effort to move the peace process forward on all fronts," Peres said at the state ceremony.
The Palestinians gave a cold welcome to the new government, with president Mahmoud Abbas saying that Netanyahu "does not believe in peace" and urged the international community to pile pressure on Israel.
* See video at: http://evideo.alarabiya.net/ShowClip.aspx?ClipID=2009.04.01.13.16.15.369
The government you lead must make a supreme effort to move the peace process forward on all fronts
Israeli President Peres
The Israeli parliament approved by a 69-45 vote Netanyahu's coalition, which includes his right-wing Likud, the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu represented by Lieberman as a foreign minister, ultra-Orthodox Shas and a small religious faction as well as the center-left Labour party represented by its chief Ehud Barak who stays on as defense minister.
"The greatest danger to humanity and our state of Israel stems from the possibility that a radical regime will arm itself with nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told the Knesset in an indirect reference to Iran.
The greatest danger to humanity and our state of Israel stems from the possibility that a radical regime will arm itself with nuclear weapons
Netanyahu, like his predecessor Olmert, said Israel, which is the Middle East's only atomic power, will not tolerate Iran turning its nuclear program into weapons. Iran denies it is seeking such an arsenal.
Referring to Iran, and the Holocaust, he said: "The Jewish people has learned its lesson. It cannot afford to take lightly megalomaniac leaders who threaten to destroy it, and in contrast with the terrible trauma we experienced last century, when we were helpless and stateless, today we are not defenseless."
In a response to Netanyahu, Abbas told Palestine Television: "This man doesn't believe in peace so how can we deal with him? The world should tell Israel that it should accept a two-state solution."
Nabil Abu Rdainah, an Abbas aide, said Netanyahu's "obscure" statements were proof his government would focus on "destroying the peace process entirely."
"We need an honest and clear commitment from the Israeli government to the two-state solution," Rdainah told Reuters by phone from Doha.
This man doesn't believe in peace so how can we deal with him?
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Netanyahu said he wants to focus negotiations on shoring up the Palestinian economy in the West Bank rather than on territorial issues that have blocked progress towards a settlement.
Netanyahu replaced Olmert, whose three-year tenure was marked by a reopening of land-for-peace talks with the Palestinians, wars against Islamist fighters in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip -- and the corruption scandal that led to his resignation.
Israeli officials, diplomats and analysts predicted Netanyahu will sidestep isolation by easing slowly into talks on Palestinian statehood and renewing peace overtures to Syria. They said Netanyahu was likely to make clear to world powers that he, and not the outspoken Lieberman, makes the decisions on diplomacy.