Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday his country is ready to resume stalled peace talks with the Palestinians but accused them of using the thorny issue of settlements to avoid negotiations.
Lieberman told journalists during a visit to the Croatian capital of Zagreb that the government had said from the first day of its rule that "we are ready for immediately meeting with the Palestinian authority and for direct talks without preconditions."
He said the Palestinian leadership had "refused direct talks."
Lieberman said that new Israeli settlements in the West Bank, angrily condemned by the Palestinians, but also opposed by many Western governments, should not be an obstacle to peace.
"It's not a real problem ... It's only an excuse to avoid direct talks," he said.
"Everybody who tries to use settlements as an obstacle for any comprehensive solution, tries to cheat public opinion and tries to avoid any peaceful approach to the problems."
Lieberman spoke as US envoy George Mitchell sought a deal on the issue shuttling between Israelis and Palestinians in a bid to revive the peace talks.
Mitchell is trying to get Israel to agree a moratorium on settlement construction that would be acceptable to the Palestinians and enable negotiations to resume.
Lieberman was in Croatia on Tuesday, at the start of a Balkans tour that will take him also to Montengero and Serbia.