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Israel's Barak: Weigh 'unilateral action'

JERUSALEM — There are signs the Israeli government is considering taking unilateral action if peace talks with the Palestinians remain stalled, a move that could involve a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank along the lines of a 2005 pullout from the Gaza Strip.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a high-profile security conference Wednesday that inaction is not an option.

"Israel cannot afford to tread water," Barak said. If a deal "proves to be impossible, we have to consider a provisional arrangement or even unilateral action."

The statement reflected a growing sense of urgency in Israel about ending its 45-year entanglement with the Palestinians, even if no peace deal is possible.

Two decades of on-again, off-again peace talks have failed to yield an agreement, and negotiations have been frozen for more than three years. As time passed, a shift of thinking has quietly occurred in Israel: The occupation of Palestinian lands may ultimately be bad for Israel simply because ruling millions of Arabs will demographically sink the Jewish state.

The new twist: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has grown increasingly vocal about the need to separate from the Palestinians, now has a broad coalition freeing him of nationalists who claim biblical rights to the West Bank.

Netanyahu, who for years rejected most concessions to the Palestinians, has also raised concerns in recent months that continued control of the more than 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank would threaten Israel's character as a democracy with a Jewish majority.

Netanyahu now presides over a coalition comprising 94 of parliament's 120 members, meaning he is no longer reliant on hard-liners to preserve his majority.

Israel's Barak: Weigh 'unilateral action' 05/30/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 10:31pm]
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