It was not immediately clear whether his remarks included the estimated 100 so-called settler outposts, which are often little more than trailers and have been set up without the approval of the Israeli authorities.

Hundreds of thouysands of Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank, most of them in the about 120 official settlements that fall under the direct control of the government.

'Strategic damage'

In September 2005, the government of Ariel Sharon, then prime minister, unilaterally removed all Jewish settlements from Gaza in a move aimed at ending Israel's costly 38-year military presence in the Gaza Strip.

In depth


 Video: Palestinians evicted
 Standoff over settlement
 Holy Land Grab
 Israel: Rise of the right
 Q&A: Jewish settlements
 Riz Khan: The battle over Israeli settlements
 Inside Story: US and Israel poles apart

Sharon had said he would follow up that withdrawal with further pullbacks from the West Bank, but a massive stroke incapacitated him, and Ehud Olmert, his successor, abandoned the policy.

The issue of settlements is threatening to develop into a rift between Israel and its longtime ally the United States, with Israel refusing to heed Washington's calls to freeze the building of settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Netanyahu's comments come as Israel summoned one of its diplomats from the US after he circulated a memorandum accusing Netanyahu's government of doing "strategic damage" to Israel's ties with Washington.

A brief intended for internal circulation was leaked to Israel's Channel 10 television, which quoted Nadav Tamir, Israel's consul in Boston, as saying differences with Washington over Jewish settlements had hurt relations.

Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, said a disciplinary measure was being taken.