Avigdor Lieberman.
Avigdor Lieberman. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is unlikely, but talks must continue if only to manage the conflict, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Friday at the annual Saban Forum in Washington.

“Trust between the two sides is about zero,” Lieberman stated, cautioning against creating “expectations” about a positive outcome for the talks. The foreign minister expressed an assessment of the talk that sharply contrasts to the one presented on the same day by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the sides were closer to an agreement than they had been in years.

Kerry, said Lieberman, who was interviewed by American journalist David Ignatius, would most likely not manage to bring about an agreement within a year, as he had earlier anticipated.

However, Lieberman also said he was grateful to Kerry for restarting talks with the Palestinians, saying that dialogue was crucial to preventing violence.

While excoriating Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as undemocratic and unrepresentative, Lieberman stated that “it’s crucial to keep this dialogue.” “It’s important to manage this conflict," he added.

Liberman rejected the designation of Israel's rule in the West Bank as occupation. Such a definition, said the FM, belies a misunderstanding of the area's history, as there never existed a Palestinian state.

Regarding Iran policy, Lieberman said differences between the Obama and Netanyahu governments were clear, but – in an implied rebuke of Netanyahu, who has sharply criticized U.S. policy – he said such disputes should be handled privately.

“I don’t like all the public discussion about the Iranian issue,” he said. “It’s impossible to discuss on TV screens.”

Netanyahu has said that an interim sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal negotiated last month between Iran and the major powers is a bad one and will allow Iran to advance toward a nuclear weapon.