George Mitchell, Avigdor Lieberman
George Mitchell, Avigdor LiebermanIsrael News Photo: (Flash 90)

United States Middle East envoy George Mitchell warned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday that America will not budge from its commitment to carving out a new Palestinian Authority state from within Israel's current borders.

Mitchell, who arrived in Israel Wednesday evening, made the comment after he met for the first time with Lieberman in his new role as foreign minister.

Lieberman raised eyebrows earlier in the month when he stated that the Netanyahu government would not be bound by decisions made in Annapolis in November 2007, noting they had never been ratified by the government, nor had they been approved by the Knesset.

"The U.S. policy favors a two-state solution, which would have a Palestinian state living in peace alongside with the Jewish State of Israel," Mitchell told reporters following the meeting.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai commented that regardless of what the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama might want, Israel could not be forced down a path that might be unrealistic.

"The preferable course of diplomatic action at this time is two economies for two peoples, and not two states for two peoples," Yishai told reporters. "The American emissary also knows that forcing the region into virtual diplomatic discourse will only breed the opposite results."

The U.S. envoy is scheduled for meetings throughout the day with Israeli officials; Wednesday night he met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and before meeting with Lieberman had already held talks with President Shimon Peres. 

Peres, too, informed MItchell that while Israel has always been interested in achieving peace in the region, it would not be at the expense of her own security.

The issue of weighing Israel's security against America's interests in the region is not new; it has also become an increasingly sensitive topic in high-level discussions over how to deal with the Iranian nuclear development threat.

The Hebrew-language daily Yediot Acharanot reported Thursday that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told an unnamed American Jewish leader that a PA state would be forced down Israel's throat by the end of Obama's term, regardless of which government rules.

"In the next four years, there will be a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, based on 'two states for two peoples,' and we couldn't care less who the prime minister is," Emanuel was quoted  as saying.

In an open letter to the Hon. Rahm Emanuel, National Union Party Leader Yaakov Katz said that if the report is true, "it seems to imply a dismissive attitude towards the Prime Minister and his positions, and towards Israeli public opinion. This is not the type of treatment Israel expects to get from a true friend like the United States and certainly not from an Israeli Jew who has attained greatness and has been appointed Chief of the White House Staff."

The newspaper also reported that the Obama administration that the U.S. would not help Israel neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat unless Jerusalem agrees to a disengagement in Judea and Samaria.

The paper reported on a "Bushehr for Yitzhar" plan -- meaning the U.S. would swap its help in neutralizing the Bushehr nuclear reactor and other installations in exchange for Israel destroying the Samarian Jewish community of Yitzhar and approximately 170 other neighboring towns.

Despite Israel's urgent warnings that time is running out, the U.S. has committed itself to an unlimited time frame on negotiations with the Islamic Republic over its uranium enrichment program, even as it continues apace. Israeli and other Western intelligence officials are convinced that Iran is working toward development of an atomic weapon, despite its denials.

Mitchell is slated to meet later in the day with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni. On Friday he will head to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad before moving on to Cairo and Riyadh.