Israel is considering abandoning the idea that a Palestinian homeland exists within its territory, and instead developing a “right-of-return” policy, a senior official said Monday.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The proposal comes amid mounting international pressure to end Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the Palestinian state will never be established.
The Israeli position has been that a future Palestinian state is a nonstarter.
A Palestinian official, speaking on condition that he not be named, said Israel would continue to pursue a settlement strategy based on a right-of, or territorial, return to the land.
This policy has been rejected by the United States, the European Union and other Western countries.
A senior Palestinian official said in recent weeks that the Palestinians were preparing a plan to implement a policy of a right of return to their land in the coming years.
This plan would seek to establish a state on land that Israel captured in 1967, he said.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said in a statement that “Israel will continue to move forward with a policy that promotes a sovereign, contiguous and independent Palestinian state on the basis of its own legitimate right of self-determination.”
The official said that Israel’s policy has not changed since 1967, when it seized the land from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War.
The right-to-return plan was the basis for a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan in 1994.
It calls for the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel considers the West Bank and Gaza, areas captured in the Six Day war, its indivisible capital.
The Palestinians say the capital is East Jerusalem.
The two sides are currently in an intense political standoff over the future of the city of Hebron, where a recent wave of violence claimed the lives of at least three Israelis and wounded dozens of others.
The United States and other countries have urged Israel to recognize a future Jewish state in Jerusalem, while the European Commission and other international bodies have urged the Jewish state to stop building settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Jerusalem neighborhoods.
The international community has also urged Israel not to continue to expand Jewish settlements in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, and to halt settlement expansion in East Bank territories under Palestinian control.
A report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli think tank, released last week found that Israeli settlement activity is on track to overtake the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.
The report said there are about 9,000 settler homes in the West, compared with about 3,600 in East.
It said the pace of settler growth has increased sharply in recent years, with about a third of settlers in occupied East Jerusalem being Jewish.
The Palestinian leadership, led by the Islamist Hamas movement, said Monday that it was not surprised that the government was considering a right to return policy.
It accused Israel of trying to create a Palestinian entity that would be under the thumb of the United Nations and the international community, and of seeking to erase the memories of the Nakba, a Jewish wave of dispossession in 1948 that destroyed the lives and lands of Palestinians in the Middle East.
According to a U.N. report released last year, the Nakbas were forced to flee their homes, villages and farms in the early stages of the 1948 war, in a move that Israel has condemned as a violation of international law.
Israel, however, maintains that the Nakbases were forced out by Arab soldiers and settlers, who seized the lands in the wake of a failed bid by a Jewish group, the Irgun, to settle in Palestine.
Israel is a major donor to the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as well as parts of East Jerusalem itself.
Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a peace deal in 1994, after the United Kingdom withdrew from the territories.
Since then, Israel has continued to build settlements in the territories and has built dozens of settlements in illegal outposts, including the E1, the area in which the Westbank and Gaza are located.
While there is no direct agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians on a Palestinian government, the Palestinians have been discussing the possibility of creating a Palestinian unity government, or a new governing body, as they look to avoid the kind of instability that plagued the Palestinian National Authority in the 1970s and 1980s.
The possibility of a unity government was also discussed in 2005, but that plan never materialized.