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No Palestinian state before 2012: Israeli FM

Cites difficulties in peace talks, Palestinian divisions

No Palestinian state will be founded in the next two years, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday, citing difficulties in U.S.-mediated peace negotiations as well as divisions among the Palestinians.

"I'm an optimistic person, and I don't see any chance of a Palestinian state arising before 2012," Lieberman, a far-rightist in Netanyahu's conservative coalition government, told reporters after meeting Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

"One can dream, and imagine, but the reality on the ground is that we are still a long way from reaching understandings and agreements on the creation of a Palestinian state by 2012," Lieberman said.

Lieberman appeared to be referring to a call by the "Quartet" of Middle East peace brokers -- Russia, the United States, European Union and United Nations -- for an accord to be in place by 2012.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who launched indirect talks with the Palestinians in May, has accepted their demand for statehood while insisting any state be shorn of some powers and sovereignty over all of the occupied West Bank.

The U.S.-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also faces opposition from Hamas Islamists who spurn the Jewish state and control the Gaza Strip.

Abbas, speaking in the West Bank town of Ramallah, said he hoped to achieve a peace deal "as soon as possible," adding that Palestinians would do "whatever we can in order to reach the (two-state) solution because time is on no one's side."

Abbas's prime minister, Salam Fayyad, has said Palestinians could declare statehood unilaterally if the diplomatic deadlock continues, though Abbas has played down this possibility.

Lavrov defended Russia's policy of openly engaging with Hamas, unlike other Quartet partners.

"In all our talks with Hamas, we have tried to convince them to switch to the political track and support the Arab peace initiative," Lavrov said.

Lavrov said that the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was liable to encourage radicalization among Palestinians and said he hoped the indirect talks would soon lead to direct negotiations.

One can dream, and imagine, but the reality on the ground is that we are still a long way from reaching understandings and agreements on the creation of a Palestinian state by 2012

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman