Israel's hard-line foreign minister warned Palestinians against plans to unilaterally declare independence next year, saying in an interview Tuesday that such a move could prompt Israel to annex parts of the West Bank and annul past peace agreements.
Avigdor Lieberman also made harsh comments about Turkey, Israel's increasingly alienated ally, saying the Turkish prime minister was coming to resemble Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.
Lieberman, who heads an ultranationalist party, has become known for a belligerent tone that has earned him critics abroad and inside Israel.
His remarks Tuesday on Palestinian independence took aim at a Palestinian policy that has emerged as U.S. attempts to restart peace talks have stalled.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whose Western-backed administration has a limited governing role in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, announced plans to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, possibly as early as 2011 — even without a peace deal.
Lieberman warned that if Palestinians declared independence, Israel could revoke 1990s peace agreements or annex parts of the West Bank.
"Any unilateral decision will release us from all of our commitments and will allow us also to make unilateral decisions," Lieberman was quoted as saying by the Ynet news Web site. "For example, imposing Israeli sovereignty on certain areas, cutting off all kinds of ties and transfers of money and a string of benefits and agreements put into place since the (peace) accords."
An official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said it is Israel's long-standing policy that unilateral moves by the Palestinians would draw similar action from Israel. He spoke on condition of anonymity because Netanyahu's office released no official comment on Lieberman's remarks.
The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — as part of their future state. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction in the two areas before peace talks can resume.
Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been on hold since late 2008. The Obama administration has pressed Israel to stop building. The Jewish state has imposed a 10-month slowdown on West Bank construction, but the order does not include east Jerusalem.
"I think we have to make clear to Obama that we are not only not freezing construction in Jerusalem, but after the 10-month freeze we will go back to building" in the West Bank, Lieberman said.
He also criticized Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his increasingly confrontational stance toward Israel, saying he was damaging decades of "excellent" ties and is "slowly turning into Gadhafi or Hugo Chavez," a reference to the leaders of Libya and Venezuela.
Lieberman said Erdogan should deal with Turkey's "problems with the Kurds" rather than "preach" to Israel. Kurdish rebels have been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey for more than two decades, killing tens of thousands.
Turkey's Foreign Ministry dismissed Lieberman's statements as "inappropriate and impertinent remarks which bear no truth," and called on Israel to "trade their meaningless and unacceptable attitude with common sense."
Israel and Turkey have built strong military and economic ties, but tensions have been increasing since Erdogan began publicly censuring Israel over its military offensive in Gaza more than a year ago.
Separately, the Israeli military said late Monday its two investigations found wrongdoing by soldiers in the killing of four Palestinians in the West Bank last month.
One probe looked into a March 20 incident in which two Palestinians were shot dead. Troops claimed they fired rubber bullets to disperse a riot, but the investigation said they were "apparently" live rounds, terming the incident "unnecessary" and saying it will be investigated further.
The following day in the same area, troops killed two men they believed were trying to attack them. The military said it was weighing disciplinary steps in that case.
Also Tuesday, the family of a 62-year-old Palestinian with a French passport said he died after soldiers wouldn't let him through a West Bank checkpoint because he did not have Palestinian documents. Palestinian medical officials said Mohammed Olayat's death was caused by a heart attack but could not say if it was related to the checkpoint delay.
A military statement expressed sorrow but said his death was unrelated to the delay. It said the man was eventually allowed through a different checkpoint and received medical treatment.
His son said Olayat had a history of heart problems.
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