Israel may make move on Palestinian issue

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 the 2005 pullout from the Gaza Strip.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a high-profile security conference yesterday that inaction is not an option and Israel cannot wait forever to reach an accord. "Israel cannot afford to tread water," he 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. A shift of thinking has quietly occurred in Israel: The occupation of Palestinian lands may ultimately be bad, simply because ruling millions of Arabs will demographically sink the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 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. He has raised concerns 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.

Palestinian officials quickly rejected the idea of unilateral Israel moves, clearly concerned that after a partial pullout leaving them well short of their goals, Israel would have scant reason to negotiate further.

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