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'No Chance of Peace with Palestinians,' says Israel's Deputy PM - 2003-12-05


Israel's deputy prime minister says there is no chance of peace with the Palestinians and Israel needs to take unilateral steps to draw its own borders. The comments come as the Israeli and Palestinian architects of an unofficial peace initiative meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington.

In comments published in the Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronot, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he sees no chance of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

He also said that Jews risk being outnumbered by Arabs in areas under Israeli control in the near future, and must take steps to avoid becoming a minority. Mr. Olmert said Israel should draw its own borders. While he did not specify what those borders should look like, he did say Israel should ensure it has a population that is at least 80 percent Jewish. That leaves open the possibility of a wider withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip than Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been willing to consider.

Mr. Sharon has also suggested that if peace talks with the Palestinians fail, he is considering unilateral steps. But, he has also warned the Palestinians that they will not get greater concessions from Israel in the future.

Another Israeli newspaper, Ma'ariv, reported Friday that Mr. Sharon's public approval rating has dropped to a new low. The newspaper published a poll, which showed that only 33 percent of those asked approve of Mr. Sharon's performance, while 59 percent said they were not satisfied. This is the lowest approval rating for the prime minister since he began his second term in office 10 months ago.

The news comes as an unofficial peace plan, which Mr. Sharon opposes, gets a boost from Washington. The co-authors of what is called the Geneva Accord - Israeli Yossi Beilin and Palestinian Yasser Abed Rabbo - are in Washington to meet with Secretary of State Powell to discuss their plan.

Mr. Sharon's government has spoken out against the meeting, saying the only peace plan on the table is the internationally backed road map.

Unlike the road map, the Geneva Accord spells out compromises both sides must make, in order to reach a final peace agreement. Supporters of the Geneva plan say is not meant to replace the road map toward peace, but rather to complement it.

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