Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said today that a peace deal with the Palestinians is impossible and that Israel should pursue a lesser deal instead, an idea the Palestinians swiftly rejected.
The latest diplomatic spat came as violence along the Israel-Gaza border simmered. After days of accelerated Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel and Israeli airstrikes in response, Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinians early today.
Lieberman told Israeli diplomats that instead of a full peace deal, Israel should seek a long-term, interim agreement on security and economic matters. Palestinians have consistently rejected that approach.
"It's not only that it is impossible" to reach an overall agreement, he said. "It is simply forbidden."
Lieberman said the West Bank Palestinian Authority - with whom Israel has pledged to negotiate - was "not legitimate" because it has postponed elections.
A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Lieberman's comments reflect "his personal positions", not those of the government. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority broke down in September after an Israeli freeze on settlement construction expired.
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Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib rejected Lieberman's comments, saying most world governments - including Israel's - recognise the Palestinian Authority as legitimate. He said the Palestinians would not accept an interim agreement.
"Meanwhile the Israeli military said it had killed two militants in an airstrke today, claiming they had been seen trying to plant explosives along the border. The Islamic Jihad militant group said two of its members died in a clash with Israeli ground troops. The border has been mostly calm since Israel's Gaza war two years ago, but clashes have flared in recent weeks. On Saturday, Gaza's militant Hamas rulers warned they would escalate hostilities against Israel if tensions didn't subside.
The Islamic militant Hamas, which rules Gaza, is at odds with the West Bank Palestinian Authority and rejects negotiations with Israel.
An Israeli court today said a Palestinian whom Israel is trying to ban from the city could remain while he appeals against his case. Adnan Gheith, who has led protests against Jewish settlers in his east Jerusalem neighborhood, was to remain outside Jerusalem for four months starting today. The military issued the ban, saying it considers him a threat to the public order.
Rights groups worry the ban - based on an obscure emergency regulation that predates Israel's establishment - could be used to target others.