Page last updated at 22:29 GMT, Wednesday, 1 April 2009 23:29 UK

US stands by two-state solution

A Palestinian sprays graffiti on a section of Israel's barrier in Bethlehem, 30 March
Israeli is building a barrier in and around the West Bank

The Obama administration has renewed Washington's commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

As a row raged over the new Israeli government's stance, the White House said Barack Obama looked forward to working with Israel's new leaders.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said the government will not be held by commitments made by its predecessors.

A US-hosted 2007 agreement had, he declared, "no validity".

Each side had agreed at talks in Annapolis to further discussions aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state.

But Mr Lieberman, an ultra-nationalist, argues that the accord was never ratified either by the Israeli government or parliament.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the world should put pressure on the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

"We want to tell the world that this man doesn't believe in peace and therefore we cannot deal with him," he told an Arab summit in Qatar.

'Close friend'

US state department spokesman Gordon Duguid would not be drawn into commenting on Mr Lieberman's views, when he briefed reporters in Washington.

Instead, he stressed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's stated commitment to achieving peace.

"Israel is a close friend and ally and we remain unalterably committed to Israel's security," he said.

"We will work closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu's government to advance the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East, and move the parties in the direction of a two-state solution."

Mr Obama, who is in London for the G20 summit, has telephoned Mr Netanyahu to congratulate him on his new coalition government, the White House said.

"The president said he looked forward to working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government to address issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Arab-Israeli peace," its statement added.

'Down the drain'

Avigdor Lieberman made his controversial remarks during a handover ceremony at the Israeli foreign ministry, prompting his predecessor Tzipi Livni to interrupt and diplomats to shift uncomfortably.

Avigdor Lieberman with his wife
Hardline nationalist Lieberman was a controversial foreign ministry choice

Correspondents say officials at the ministry seemed taken aback at such a sudden and public repudiation of one of the main planks of Israeli diplomatic activity.

"He said Annapolis goes down the drain and we're only committed to the road map so I guess that's the new path," one unnamed official told Reuters news agency.

The Annapolis accords were seen as a last-ditch attempt by the previous US administration to realise what President George W Bush called his "vision" of peace involving a two-state solution.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to launch "vigorous, ongoing and continuous" negotiations to reach a comprehensive peace deal, and make every effort to conclude it before the end of 2008.

Although the incoming Netanyahu government has avoided committing itself to the establishment of a Palestinian state, it is bound to the original, 2003 Road Map for peace, Mr Lieberman pointed out.

The Road Map made progress towards a Palestinian state contingent on the Palestinian Authority's progress on suppressing activity by militant groups - the strongest of which, Hamas, actually ousted the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority from Gaza in 2007.

It also obliged Israel to freeze settlement activity on territory it occupied in the 1967 war.

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