Israel's Barak floats partial, unilateral West Bank pullback

Mon Sep 24, 2012 1:38pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel should pull out unilaterally from much of the occupied West Bank if a peace deal with the Palestinians remains out of reach, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview published on Monday.

The proposal by Barak, who leads a tiny political party that surveys suggest might not win a single parliamentary seat in any new election, was swiftly shot down by a deputy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"It would be preferable to reach an agreement with the Palestinians but, if that doesn't work, practical actions should be taken to begin a disengagement," Barak told Israel Hayom, a right-wing newspaper supportive of Netanyahu.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2010 over settlement building in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 Middle East war that Palestinians seek, along with the Gaza Strip, for a future state.

Under Barak's plan, dozens of small settlements spread across wide areas of the West Bank would be evacuated unilaterally, with residents receiving financial compensation and new homes either in other settlements or within Israel.

The major settlement blocs that are home to most of the 350,000 settlers in the West Bank, built on narrower tracts of land closer to Israel, would remain under Israeli control - an idea floated by previous governments and rejected by Palestinian leaders.

"The time has come to make a decision stemming not only from ideology and a gut feeling but also from a cold reading of reality," Barak said.

"NO WAY"   Continued...