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Israel talks unilateral action against Palestinians

Published: Wednesday, May 30 2012 11:34 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 file photo Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak attends a meeting with Greek Foreign Minister, Stavros Dimas in Athens. Barak abruptly proposed on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 that Israel consider FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 file photo Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak attends a meeting with Greek Foreign Minister, Stavros Dimas in Athens. Barak abruptly proposed on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 that Israel consider "unilateral action" if long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians don't resume and produce a deal suggesting Israel may be thinking of withdrawing from part of the West Bank, as it did from the Gaza Strip seven years ago. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File) (Associated Press)

JERUSALEM — There are signs the Israeli government is considering taking unilateral action if peace talks with the Palestinians remain stalled, a move which 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 on Wednesday that inaction is not an option and Israel cannot wait forever to reach an accord.

"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. And 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.

Charles Taylor waits for the start of his sentencing judgement in the courtroom of the Special Court for Sierra Leone(SCSL) in Leidschendam, near The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday May 30, 2012. The SCSL found Taylor guilty last month on 11 charges of aiding and abetting the rebels who went on a bloody rampage during the decade-long war that ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead. Taylor became the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since World War II. Taylor will serve his sentence in a British prison. (AP Photo/Toussaint Kluiters, Pool) (Associated Press) Charles Taylor waits for the start of his sentencing judgement in the courtroom of the Special Court for Sierra Leone(SCSL) in Leidschendam, near The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday May 30, 2012. The SCSL found Taylor guilty last month on 11 charges of aiding and abetting the rebels who went on a bloody rampage during the decade-long war that ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead. Taylor became the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since World War II. Taylor will serve his sentence in a British prison. (AP Photo/Toussaint Kluiters, Pool) (Associated Press)

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.

Early this month, he shored up his coalition by bringing the main opposition party, Kadima, into the government. 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. The formation of this new supermajority has raised speculation that Netanyahu might soon come forward with a diplomatic initiative to end the deadlock.

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