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Peace deal 'is not possible' now

A final peace deal with the Palestinians cannot be reached at present, Israeli officials say.

They are weighing alternatives as with popular protests shaking up the Mideast, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under fierce international pressure to prove he is serious about getting peacemaking moving again.

The US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's West Bank settlement construction last month and Israeli officials are set to meet international mediators, including US envoy Dennis Ross and representatives of the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the US, European Union, United Nations and Russia - in the region next week.

Government officials say Netanyahu is expected to deliver a major policy speech on peacemaking in the coming weeks, hinting at a change in direction away from direct talks on a peace treaty.

Privately, officials say Netanyahu is considering a phased approach to peacemaking, and one government official said: "The consistent refusal of the Palestinian leadership to negotiate with Israel has made a negotiated agreement all but impossible to achieve, at least for the time being, and so we're looking at an Israeli initiative, and steps that we can take that would be a phased approach to a final status agreement."

US-led peace talks, launched six months ago with the ambitious goal of striking a final deal by September 2011, broke down shortly after they began over Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians demanded a freeze in both areas, which the Palestinians claim for a state, along with the Gaza Strip.

Israel, which pulled out of Gaza in 2005, refused to yield to that demand, insisting that previous rounds of talks took place while settlement construction was under way, such a precondition was unprecedented, and the issue should be settled in negotiations.

Given the impasse, the Palestinians have launched a campaign to seek international recognition of Palestinian statehood. Their tentative plan is to seek the world's recognition in the autumn, a move that may not give them a state on the ground but might isolate Israel.

Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics reported that settlers have began building up to 500 apartments and homes in the West Bank after a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction expired in late September.

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