Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in a statement published by his office that his country's intention to keep its largest settlements in occupied West Bank was backed by the United States.

"Large Israeli settlement blocs will remain in Israeli hands in any future settlement with the Palestinians," the statement quoted Sharon as telling his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

"This position won the unprecedented backing of the entire American government," Sharon added, saying that this was outlined in a letter from US President George Bush on 14 April 2004. 
  

"Large Israeli settlement blocs will remain in Israeli hands in any future settlement with the Palestinians"

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

"This is a letter that the president sent to the prime minister, its public, anyone can read it and the understandings between the two countries are very clear," Sharon added.

The matter was also approved in subsequent votes in the US House of Representatives and Senate, he said.

Diplomatic sabotage

Sharon slammed recent contradictory media reports of US policy as a homegrown campaign of diplomatic sabotage.
 
"Political elements in Israel ... did not hesitate to try to harm the state of Israel's greatest diplomatic asset and tried to sabotage Israel's relations with our greatest friend, the US,"
he said.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated that any peace deal would have to take the biggest Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands into account.

But she also reaffirmed support for the internationally drafted road map peace plan which calls for an end to all settlement activity and has made next to no progress since its launch in 2003.