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Netanyahu offers twist in peace talks

Says Jews should have right to stay in future Palestine

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that all Jewish settlers should have the right to remain in their homes in a future Palestine, an official in his office said Sunday, offering a novel approach to one of the stickiest issues in the Mideast peace talks.

The suggestion, however, was immediately rejected by Palestinian leaders and settlers themselves.

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In years of negotiations, it has been assumed that any Jewish settlers not inside Israeli territory under a future peace deal would have to be removed. But Netanyahu believes there is no reason for a future Palestinian state to be ‘‘ethnically cleansed,’’ the official said.

The comments expanded upon Netanyahu’s comments during the weekend in Davos, Switzerland, where he told reporters at the World Economic Forum that he did not intend to uproot any Israelis in a peace deal.

More than 500,000 settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians now hope will be part of their future state. East Jerusalem and the West Bank, known to religious Jews as Judea and Samaria, are parts of the biblical land of Israel. Hardline Israelis object to ceding either area on both spiritual and security grounds.

The Palestinians consider settlements built beyond the 1967 borders to be illegal land grabs and rejected the idea of incorporating them in a future state.

‘‘Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state,’’ Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. ‘‘No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.’’

The settlers themselves generally reject the prospect, preferring to stay under Israeli sovereignty. Settler leader Dani Dayan said that Netanyahu’s stance was ‘‘positive, but not sufficient.’’

‘‘Of course every settler should have the right to remain in their home but it should be under Israeli rule,’’ he said. ‘‘I came to this land to live in an Israeli state, not a Palestinian state.’’

Israel has proved before that it can tear down settlements when it thinks the price is worth it, such as in 2005 when it removed all of its 8,500 settlers from the Gaza Strip. But the sight of soldiers dragging families from their homes was a painful one for Israelis and the government is wary of repeating it unless it were guaranteed a final peace accord that would end all hostilities.

Netanyahu himself was opposed to the Gaza withdrawal and remains critical of the settlers’ evacuation.

Given the Palestinians staunch opposition to absorbing Jewish settlers, Netanyahu’s latest condition could pose another obstacle to an agreement in peace talks. Alternatively, it could offer a creative option to one of the major stumbling blocks.

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