Israel PM answers critic over two-state solution

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reiterated his commitment to a Palestinian state, after his deputy defence minister said the government would not support a two-state solution.

Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu -- who in 2009 declared his support of a two-state solution -- said he and US Secretary of State John Kerry will together "try to make progress to find the opening for negotiations with the Palestinians, with the goal of reaching an agreement."

"This agreement will be based on a demilitarised Palestinian state that recognises the Jewish state, and on firm security arrangements based on the IDF (Israel Defence Forces)," he said.

His remarks were made just days after Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu's ruling Likud party, rejected the notion that the government was serious about reaching a peace agreement that would lead to the formation of a Palestinian state.

"There was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution," Danon said in an interview with The Times of Israel news website on Thursday.

If it were put to a vote, "the majority of Likud ministers, along with Jewish Home will be against it," he said, referring to a far-right nationalist faction within the government.

"Today, we are not fighting it, but if there will be a move to promote a two-state solution, you will see forces blocking it within the party and the government," he said.

"Today there is no partner, no negotiations, so it's a discussion. It's more of an academic discussion," he said, adding that Netanyahu "knows that in the near future it's not possible" to create a Palestinian state.

Although Netanyahu made no direct mention of Danon's remarks, which made headlines across the press on Sunday, he stressed the need for unity within his cabinet.

"In order to face these challenges and many others, the government has to function as one unit," he said, his remarks distributed in a statement.

Kerry, who last week warned time was running out on a possible peace deal, is due in the region this week for his fifth visit since taking office in February in a bid to revive direct peace talks after a nearly three-year hiatus.

Palestinians say they will only return to negotiations if Israel stops building on land it wants for a future state and if the Jewish state agrees to negotiate on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.

Israel demands talks "without preconditions" and refuses publicly to freeze settlement building.