JERUSALEM // Israel's hard-line foreign minister warned Palestinians today against plans to unilaterally declare independence next year, saying such a move could prompt Israel to annex parts of the West Bank and annul past peace agreements. The remarks by Avigdor Lieberman took aim at a Palestinian policy that has emerged as US attempts to restart peace talks have stalled. Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, whose Western-backed government has a limited governing role in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, has announced plans to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, possibly as early as the summer of 2011 - even without a peace deal.
Mr Fayyad has begun ambitious reforms of the government and security forces, building up Palestinian institutions and developing the economy in preparation for independence. The reforms were welcomed by the West but have raised Israeli fears that a unilateral Palestinian statehood declaration could win international recognition. Mr Lieberman warned that if Palestinians declared independence, Israel could revoke the 1990s peace agreements known as the Oslo accords, or even 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," Mr Lieberman was quoted as saying by the Ynet news website. "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 Oslo 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 Mr Netanyahu's office released no official comment on Mr 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. Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians have been on hold since late 2008, with a new round of indirect talks being held up by a spat over Israeli construction in east Jerusalem.
Separately, the Israeli military said late yesterday its two investigations had 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 it was "apparently" live rounds. A military statement termed the incident "unnecessary" and the results "severe" and said 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 the troops "could have operated in a more professional manner" and that the military was weighing disciplinary steps. Also today, 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 didn't have Palestinian documents.
Palestinian medical officials said Mohammed Olayat's death was caused by a heart attack but couldn't say if it was related to the checkpoint delay. A military statement expressed sorrow over the death but said the man was not detained or forced to wait at the checkpoint. It said he was eventually allowed through a different checkpoint and received medical treatment, and that his death did not result from the troops' actions.