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Palestinians say two-state solution in jeopardy

ABU DIS - Palestinians will seek to forge a single bi-national state with Israel if Israel carries out its threat to absorb chunks of the West Bank, says Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie.

His comments underscored the Palestinians' sense of desperation in the face of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral plan to impose a boundary stripping them of some of the land they want for a state if peacemaking remains frozen.

Israelis strongly oppose the scenario of a single state made up of Palestinians and Israelis, fearing that unless they separate from the Palestinians, Israel could end up ruling an area in which Jews would soon be a minority.

Qurie said Sharon's unilateralism, including a vast barrier Israel is building in the West Bank, could prompt Palestinians to abandon efforts for a two-state solution to the conflict.

"This is an apartheid solution to put the Palestinians in cantons. Who can accept this?" he asked in the West Bank town of Abu Dis near Jerusalem.

"We will go for a one-state solution. There's no other solution. We will not hesitate to defend the right of our people when we feel the very serious intention [of Israel] to destroy these rights."

Sharon has indicated he hopes to pre-empt a bi-national situation by vacating smaller, more remote Jewish settlements that will not be encompassed by the Israeli barrier, casting off responsibility for the Palestinian population beyond.

His allies say unilateral actions will be necessary to protect Israel's security unless Qurie's Government takes action against militants who have spearheaded suicide bombings.

Palestinians see Sharon's ultimatum as a ploy to evade a US-backed peace roadmap, which calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza beside a secure Israel by next year.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell later repeated the US view that a two-state solution was the only way forward and the way to achieve it was for Qurie to crack down on militants.

"We're committed to a two-state solution," Powell told a Washington news conference.

"I believe that's the only solution that will work: a state for the Palestinian people called Palestine and a Jewish state, the state of Israel."



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