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Netanyahu would let Israeli settlers live in future Palestine: report

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 26, 2014. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 26, 2014. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will insist that Jewish settlers in the West Bank have a right to remain under Palestinian rule in any future peace deal, a government official was quoted as saying on Sunday.

The apparent trial balloon, reported on the English-language Times of Israel website, drew a no-comment from a spokesman for Netanyahu and angry words from Naftali Bennett, a key pro-settlement partner in his governing coalition.

"The idea of Jewish settlements under Palestinian sovereignty is very dangerous and reflects an irrationality of values," Bennett wrote on his Facebook page.

The Israeli report quoted an official in Netanyahu's office as saying he did not intend to uproot Jewish settlements anywhere in the West Bank, land that Palestinians seek for a state under U.S.-brokered peace talks showing few signs of progress since they resumed in July after a three-year break.

Netanyahu would "insist that settlers be given the free choice of remaining in place and living under Palestinian rule, or relocating to areas under Israeli sovereign rule," the official was quoted as saying.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Netanyahu said he did not intend to uproot a single settler in a future Palestinian statehood agreement.

The Times of Israel quoted the unidentified official as saying Netanyahu's idea of allowing settlers the option of staying in their homes under Palestinian rule fell under that pledge.

Some Israeli political commentators suggested the leak was aimed at heading off settler opposition to a framework deal, or as guidelines for a final peace agreement that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to formulate.

Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party and an advocate of Israeli annexation of the West Bank, demanded in his Facebook post that Netanyahu "immediately refute this dangerous proposal."

There was no immediate Palestinian reaction to the report.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already balked at an Israeli demand to keep an Israeli troop presence in the Jordan Valley, an area likely to be the eastern border of a Palestinian state.

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state in those areas and fear that settlements, which most countries view as illegal and an obstacle to peacemaking, will deny them a viable country.

More than 500,000 Israeli settlers live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In 2005, Israel pulled its troops and settlers out the Gaza Strip, now controlled by Hamas Islamists opposed to the U.S.-brokered peace efforts.

(Reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Steve Orlofsky)

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