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Barak: Consider unilateral separation from West Bank

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israel should consider unilateral steps to separate itself from the Palestinians should peace talks fail, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

Such steps would include dismantling settlements beyond the separation barrier and maintaining a military presence in the Jordan Valley along the West Bank-Jordan border, Barak said Sunday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington.

"We should consider unilateral steps in order to place a wedge on this extremely dangerous slippery slope to a binational state," he said.

Barak, who is leaving government, has been the chief advocate within the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for advancing talks with the Palestinian Authority.

On Sunday, he told AIPAC that Netanyahu had been a "courageous" advocate for peace, noting his freeze on settlement building in 2010, and that the failure of the talks was "mostly" the fault of the Palestinians.

His warnings about the dangers of a binational state also come at a time when Israel’s leaders are more preoccupied by Iran and domestic social issues.

AIPAC has set as a lobbying priority sharpening warnings to Iran that it could face military consequences unless it suspends its suspected nuclear weapons program.

One congressional measure it is backing would urge President Obama to back Israel should it feel "compelled" to strike Iran.

Barak and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) both told the conference that Israel needed stronger reassurances from the West that a military option was under consideration.

"In order for the United States to maintain credibility with Iran, we must also maintain credibility with Israel," Cornyn said.

Barak cited the American euphemism for possible military action: "All options must be on the table — we expect all those who say it to mean it," he said.  

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, also speaking at the conference, expressed skepticism over negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

"We must be clear and unequivocal: We will not back down on sanctions and pressure just for Iran showing up at the negotiating table," Baird said, referring to recent talks between the major powers and Iran to set the terms for negotiations on access to Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, while Western intelligence agencies believe it is close to having the capability to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

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