JERUSALEM, Dec. 21 (JTA) — Israel does not intend to give up any settlements as part of an agreement with the Palestinians, pledged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu said Sunday that in his meeting last week with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, he made clear his government’s opposition to dismantling settlements. Netanyahu was quoted as telling the Cabinet that the discussions with Albright in Paris on Dec. 18 focused on increasing American understanding of Israel’s concerns, among them Palestinian fulfillment of their obligations under the signed agreements with the Jewish state. The prime minister’s remarks came on the heels of a declaration Friday at a conference here that Israel has a right to a presence in the West Bank. “We should be there. This is our land, our homeland. We have differences of opinion over the territory,” Netanyahu told journalists from around the world attending the International Conference on the Jewish Media. “There is nothing in the Oslo accords that prohibits Israel from building settlements,” said Netanyahu, adding that the land used to expand existing settlements is less than 1 percent of the West Bank. Netanyahu’s remarks at the Jerusalem conference sparked a sharp Palestinian reaction, with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and other senior officials declaring that his statements were a gross violation of the Oslo accords. Arafat, who met with Albright in London last week, told reporters over the weekend that the Palestinians are determined to realize their objective of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as its capital. Albright said over the weekend that her meeting with Netanyahu made some “serious progress” and that she expected the Israelis to come forward with a “serious” proposal for a redeployment in the West Bank. Israel is not expected to make any decision on the scope of a redeployment until mid-January in order to avoid the possibility that hard-line coalition members would use a pending vote on the state budget to pressure Netanyahu in the political arena.
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