( RIA Novosti ) - Israel's prime minister pledged on Monday to halt the creation of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but would not discuss Palestinian demands to prevent construction in existing villages and towns.
Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Ehud Olmert also promised to dismantle unauthorized outposts in the region.
"Let's be fair. We committed ourselves not to build new settlements and we will not build any. We promised not to expropriate land and we will not do so. We promised to remove unauthorized outposts and we will keep our promise," Olmert said, without specifying a timeline.
His statements came ahead of a Washington-sponsored Middle East peace summit due in Annapolis next week, which Israel and the Palestinian National Authority both hope will help re-launch peace talks.
The parties first developed a staged conflict resolution plan, also known as a road map, in 2002. The plan, which paves the way to the eventual establishment of an independent Palestinian state, stipulates that Israel freeze all settlement construction activity and remove unauthorized outposts built since 2001.
Palestinian authorities, whom the road plan obliges to crack down on militants in the region, have criticized Israel for expanding their West Bank settlements. Israel has cited population growth for the expansion of existing settlements.
Around 270,000 Jews live in the West Bank, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), a nongovernmental Israeli organization, cited Israel's main statistics body as saying that the Jewish population had increased 5.8% in the West Bank over the past year, compared to a mere 1.8% population growth for the whole of Israel for the same period.