WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday rejected the notion of unilateral Israeli steps toward separating from the Palestinians.

“We have discouraged unilateral action from both sides,” Clinton said when asked about the possibility during a press conference while on trip to Denmark.

“The United States believes there is no substitute for direct talks between the parties.”

Several leading Israeli voices, including most recently hints by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have raised the possibility of unilateral Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank – though presumably they would not be as extensive as those sought by the Palestinians – in the face of a longtime stalemate in negotiations to reach a peace agreement.

Clinton, however, said the new political environment in Israel gave some hope for movement in the peace process, and that the US would be pushing for such momentum.

“This new coalition government in Israel provides the best opportunity in several years to reach such a negotiated agreement,” she said.

Clinton noted that she had called both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to press them to take advantage of the “new opening” created by Israel’s broad coalition.

“We’re going to continue to urge them to do so,” she emphasized, pointing also to Israel’s return of the bodies of Palestinian terrorists as another sign of potential progress.

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