The Israeli prime minister has said his incoming security adviser will prepare unilateral steps that will strip Palestinians of territory if a US-backed peace plan fails.
Word that Giora Eiland, a major general who is leaving the army to head the National Security Council, would start work on Ariel Sharon's so-called Disengagement Plan coincided with a resurgence of occupation initiated violence battering the already troubled "road map" peace plan.
"We are talking about a new line of redeployment which includes the relocation of settlements and redeployment of army camps and installations," a senior source in Sharon's office said on Sunday.
"This is not to say that we are... opting for this, it is just preparing for something we don't really want."
Palestinians condemn the Sharon plan as a veiled manoeuvre to impose borders that would carve up land they want for a state there and in the Gaza Strip.
The imposed border would follow the route of a widely-criticised separation wall Israel is building inside the West Bank.
The road map envisages a Palestinian state in both territories alongside a secure Israel.
Sharon also signed an order on Sunday to accelerate the removal of four unauthorised settlement outposts, the defence ministry said. Their removal would be in line with the road map, but could also serve as a first step to the unilateral separation plan Western countries have decried.
Critics say the apartheid wall's
construction is blocking progress
Palestinian Negotiations Minister Saib Uraiqat said Eiland's appointment showed Israel was "escalating the implementation of unilateral steps".
A senior Israeli source said a resistance bombing that killed four Israelis on Thursday and a spate of intelligence warnings of future attacks meant Israel had to hasten the planning of an alternative to the road map.
The attack on Thursday was the first of its kind in two and a half months, but among more than 100 since the start of the three-year-old Palestinian revolt for statehood.
The bombing was in apparent retaliation for the killing, minutes earlier, of the head of Islamic Jihad's armed wing, his deputy and three bystanders in a helicopter missile strike into Gaza City.
Palestinian leaders say Israel's assassinations of resistance leaders and its constant search-and-arrest raids into Palestinian cities have sabotaged Egyptian-led efforts to coax resistance organsations into a ceasefire, vital to salvaging the road map.
Uraiqat said Israel's accelerated construction of the apartheid wall was also obstructing peace moves. Israel says the barrier keeps out Palestinian resistance fighters.
But Palestinians and most other observers see it as an attempt to annex land Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
The wall often diverges from the recognised border to incorporate illegal Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank that Sharon vows never to let go under any final peace accord.