Israel PM ready for 'painful' settlement evacuations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ready to push through a "painful evacuation" of settlements as part of a final peace deal, a minister said Thursday just hours before the arrival of Washington's top diplomat.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was due in Jerusalem on Thursday evening for his fifth visit in as many months as he seeks to draw Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after a hiatus of nearly three years.

Kerry, who arrived in Jordan on Wednesday, was to have a dinner meeting with the Israeli leader and then meet with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas a day later in Amman.

"Netanyahu knows there will be a painful evacuation of a number of settlements that are not in the settlement blocs, and that there will be a land swap," Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri told army radio.

"There is no doubt that Benjamin Netanyahu and a not-insignificant number of Likud ministers understand, or have reached the conclusion that it is in Israel's strategic interest... to return to the negotiating table," said Peri, who now belongs to the centrist Yesh Atid party.

Netanyahu's government which was pieced together in March is considered as even more hardline than his previous cabinet on the issue of a Palestinian state.

"Netanyahu is much more ready than in the past, whether it's for ideological or practical reasons, for an immediate return to the negotiating table," Peri added, saying there was a "new wind" blowing.

Similar statements were plastered across the front of Israel's left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, in which "a senior cabinet member from Netanyahu's Likud" said the premier would be ready to give up almost all of the West Bank if Israel's security needs were met.

"Netanyahu understands that for a peace agreement, it will be necessary to withdraw from more than 90 percent of the West Bank and evacuate more than a few settlements," he told the paper.

"His two key principles are maintaining the settlement blocs as part of Israel and a military presence in the Jordan Valley, without Israeli sovereignty there."