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No Palestinian state before 2012 - Israeli minister

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - No Palestinian state will be founded in the next two years, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday, citing difficulties in U.S.-mediated peace negotiations as well as divisions among the Palestinians.

Lieberman appeared to be referring to a call by the “Quartet” of Middle East peace brokers -- Russia, the United States, European Union and United Nations -- for an accord to be in place by 2012.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who launched indirect talks with the Palestinians in May, has accepted their demand for statehood while insisting any state be shorn of some powers and sovereignty over all of the occupied West Bank.

The U.S.-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also faces opposition from Hamas Islamists who spurn the Jewish state and control the Gaza Strip.

“I’m an optimistic person, and I don’t see any chance of a Palestinian state arising before 2012,” Lieberman, a far-rightist in Netanyahu’s conservative coalition government, told reporters after meeting Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

“One can dream, and imagine, but the reality on the ground is that we are still a long way from reaching understandings and agreements on the creation of a Palestinian state by 2012,” Lieberman said.

Abbas, speaking in the West Bank town of Ramallah, said he hoped to achieve a peace deal “as soon as possible,” adding that Palestinians would do “whatever we can in order to reach the (two-state) solution because time is on no one’s side.”

Abbas’s prime minister, Salam Fayyad, has said Palestinians could declare statehood unilaterally if the diplomatic deadlock continues, though Abbas has played down this possibility.

Lavrov defended Russia’s policy of openly engaging with Hamas, unlike other Quartet partners.

“In all our talks with Hamas, we have tried to convince them to switch to the political track and support the Arab peace initiative,” Lavrov said.

Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah; Writing by Dan Williams and Joseph Nasr; Editing by Janet Lawrence