JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would give up “some settlements” in occupied Palestinian land to help secure a peace agreement but would limit as much as he could the number of enclaves removed.
The settlements are a key issue in peace talks renewed under Washington’s tutelage in July after a three-year impasse. Little progress has been reported though U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said he hopes to publish a framework for a deal soon.
“It is clear that some of the settlements, some of them, will not be included in the agreement. That’s clear. Everyone understands that. I will ensure the number will be as small as possible, as far as is possible, if we get there,” Netanyahu said.
The settlements built in territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War are deemed illegal in international law and condemned by most governments.
Despite the peace negotiations, Israel has intensified construction in the past year. Central Bureau of Statistics figures released on Monday showed the number of new construction projects in the settlements doubled to 2,534 in 2013, from 1,133 in 2012.
Netanyahu’s comments to Israel’s Channel 2 television were his first in Hebrew to an expressly Israeli audience suggesting he would concede settlements for peace, though he made a similar commitment in English in a 2011 speech to the U.S. Congress.
They were recorded during a five-day visit to the United States from which he returned on Friday and which included talks at the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday about the issues delaying a peace deal. Obama has been critical of Jewish construction in the settlements, including calling for a freeze in 2009.
In May 2011 Netanyahu said for the first time he was prepared to give up settlements for peace though Palestinians at the time rejected other terms Israel had set for then stalled negotiations.
Palestinians say settlements that dot much of the West Bank landscape would bar them from establishing a contiguous independent state alongside Israel, a goal of peace talks.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Angus MacSwan