JERUSALEM - President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy finds himself increasingly hamstrung, with Israel's foreign minister Thursday all but ruling out a peace deal for years to come and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas weakened by his decision not to push for a Gaza war crimes tribunal against Israel.
Obama envoy George Mitchell, visiting Israeli and Palestinian leaders for the second time in three weeks, is trying relentlessly to bring the sides together for talks, but the obstacles he faces are daunting.
The Palestinian leadership Thursday shifted course and endorsed a U.N. Security Council debate next week over a U.N. report accusing Israel of possible war crimes in Gaza.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki acknowledges a "clear crisis" exists over the report. The Palestinian Authority had received harsh criticism for agreeing under U.S. pressure not to push the issue at the United Nations.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested that the two sides come up with a long-term interim arrangement that would ensure stability, while at the same time putting off a final deal. He recommended leaving the toughest issues - such as the status of disputed Jerusalem and a solution for Palestinian refugees who lost homes amid war - "to a much later stage."
"Anyone who says that within the next few years an agreement can be reached ending the conflict ... simply doesn't understand the situation and spreads delusions, ultimately leading to disappointments and an all-out confrontation here," Lieberman told Israel Radio.