Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that he would be willing to return some of the illegal Israeli settlement blocks established in the West Bank for the sake of peace. Netanyahu stated he would be willing to give up isolated settlements but not the major blocs. In what has been described by Israeli pundits as Netanyahu’s most “dovish” speech to date, the Israeli PM laid out his position ahead of a major address to US congress next Tuesday.Netanyahu laid out nine points that he claimed were essential to any future agreements to a Palestinian state. The points included the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland, no right of return for Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem to remain the united capital of Israel, Israel to retain the settlement blocks inside the West Bank and that Palestine would remain demilitarised with an Israeli military presence along the border to Jordan.

The talk is the first time Netanyahu has hinted that Israel would give up any of the West Bank settlements as part of a peace agreement. It comes after his Bar llan speech in 2009 in which he talked of the possibility of Israel recognising a demilitarised Palestinian state. The Israeli PM restated his belief that any deconstruction of Israeli settlements was a painful concession that “cedes part of [Israel’s] homeland”.

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the speech as setting preconditions on future talks. A spokesman for the PA said that all issues must be settled at the debating table including the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homes in Israel. The PA has consistently demanded a halt to the construction of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank as essential for any future talks.

Israeli human rights group Gush Shalom, in response to the statement, has stated Israel must play its part in any peace treaty by giving up all lands gained in 1967 as per international law, ending all settlements and withdrawing all military forces. The press release stated that ‘Whoever does not want to pay the price required, will not be able to reach a compromise which is essential to our future in this country” and that by continuing settlement activity “the Israeli government blocks all the roads to peace and compromise, and by its own doing increases Israel’s isolated position in the world, and build up the international pressure towards September”.

Netanyahu makes a trip to the US for three key events this week that will set out his government’s position to future peace talks. They include a speech to US congress as well as the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, and a meeting with US President Barrack Obama on Friday.