The Palestinian Authority is coming under increasing pressure - from Israel and the international community - to back down from its threat to unilaterally declare a state without first concluding a peace agreement with Israel.

Speaking yesterday at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman said that such a move would violate earlier agreements, and that it would free Israel from its obligations toward the Palestinians.

"Every unilateral step will be met with our own steps. Anyone who conducts unilateral policies contrary to all agreements will be met with a similar attitude on our part," Lieberman said.

Speaking earlier on Israel Radio, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan was even more explicit.

"If the Palestinians take such a unilateral line, Israel should also consider ... passing a law to annex some of the settlements," Erdan said.

Without setting a time frame, Palestinian officials said on Sunday that they planned to go to the UN Security Council to secure international support for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

U.S. senators visiting the Middle East, meanwhile, said that Washington would veto any Palestinian declaration of statehood in the United Nations Security Council. They said it would go nowhere, and urged Arab states to stop it.

"It would be D.O.A. - dead on arrival," said Senator Ted Kaufman, a Democrat. "It's a waste of time."

In Brussels, however, the European Union's foreign policy and security chief, Javier Solana, appeared not to rule the idea out entirely, telling journalists that he would not "give any advice to the Palestinians today - they know what they have to do."

But he added, "The most important thing is to get negotiations relaunched."

In June, Solana proposed the UN should go ahead and recognize a Palestinian state based on the region's 1967 borders if the parties themselves were unable to make peace by a fixed deadline.

Playing a 'double game'

Lieberman also asserted that Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority urged Israel to wipe out Hamas during Operation Cast Lead, and accused the Palestinian Authority leader of playing a "double game." "During Operation Case Lead the PA pressed us to crush Hamas, and then, a month later, they filed complaints against us at the International Criminal Court at The Hague," Lieberman said.

"Even before the Goldstone Report, there were a thousand claims against Israel at the International Court, a large portion of them with PA encouragement," the foreign minister said.

In response to his statements, some MKs in the committee accused him of "making Abbas a scapegoat."

Lieberman also expressed doubts about the signals that Syrian President Bashar Assad is sending Israel regarding his desire for peace.

"He is sending all sorts of signals, like the cargo ship full of arms that they tried to smuggle," Lieberman said.

Israel bears daily witness to arms smuggling to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, he said, adding that the Syrian president is collaborating with the Iranians and supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"We say clearly: We are willing to talk about peace, without preconditions and without dictates. Syria was offered to join the European Union as an observer, and of course they refused the offer, not because of Israel but because of their own considerations," Lieberman said.

MK Aryeh Eldad, of the right-wing National Union, criticized Lieberman. "He has a total disconnect between his excellent analytical ability and comprehension, and his part in implementing the policy led by [Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Ehud] Barak, which completely contradicts his understanding of things."

"Anyone who recognizes that there will be no peace cannot agree with the prime minister when he declares his support for a Palestinian state," Eldad said.

MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) told Lieberman during the Knesset committee meeting that Israel must lead a broader diplomatic initiative that would enable the international community to counter threatening terrorist groups.