Remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the future of Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank have sparked controversy in Israel and the Palestinian areas, dpa reported.
A suggestion that a Jewish minority should be allowed to stay and live in a future Palestinian state sparked angry reactions Monday by both the Palestinian Authority and far-right members of Netanyahu's own government.
Netanyahu said in Davos, Switzerland Friday that he had "no intention of evacuating a single settlement or a single Jew."
Asked to expand on that, an official close to him was quoted as saying that there was no reason why the Palestinian state could not contain a Jewish minority, just as the state of Israel had an Arab minority of 20 per cent.
The majority of settlers live in settlement blocs, which Netanyahu wants to annex as part of a future peace deal, in exchange for a minor land swap.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected out of hand the suggestion that settlers should be given the option to stay in the future Palestinian state.
"We will not allow not even one settler to stay on the land of the Palestinian state," he told the Ramallah-based al-Ayyam daily.
"Those who say settlers should stay, they are actually saying they do not want a Palestinian state to be established.
"If Netanyahu wants settlers and settlements to stay, he is therefore insisting on destroying the two-state solution."
Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, of the pro-settler Jewish Home coalition party, too issued a statement with unusually sharply worded criticism of Netanyahu.
"Two thousand years of longing for the land of Israel did not pass (for us) to live under the rule of Abu Mazen," Bennet said, using Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' nom de guerre.
Bennet went as far as to call the idea of a Jewish minority living in a Palestinian state a "moral loss of mind."
"I call on to prime minister to disavowthis grave idea immediately," he said.
Netanyahu's office, in turn, too issued two separate angry reactions against the Palestinian Authority's and Bennett's statements.
It called Bennet "irresponsible" and accused him of harming Netanyahu's efforts.
It also called the Palestinian Authority's reaction to the idea "extreme" and "rushed."
"Nothing exposes more the Palestinian Authority's unwillingness to reach an agreement with the state of Israel, than their extreme and rushed reaction to an unofficial publication," it charged.