JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected on Wednesday any notion he would order Israel's barrier in the West Bank to be torn down in response to the absence of Palestinian attacks from the occupied territory.

The separation fence will remain in place and will not be dismantled, Netanyahu said in a speech in parliament.

I hear they are saying today that because it's quiet, it's possible to take down the fence. My friends, the opposite is true, he said. It's quiet because a fence exists.

Netanyahu made the comments after Israel's Maariv newspaper said Palestinian officials had pressed Washington to push for the barrier to be dismantled because of an improved security situation in the West Bank.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters he had approached the United States on the issue. The Israelis know that the wall adds to the complexities. It's part of the problem and not part of the solution, he said.

Israeli leaders have portrayed the barrier as a temporary obstacle that could be moved once a peace agreement with the Palestinians was signed and attacks on Israel ceased.

In his speech, Netanyahu said Israel welcomed a certain improvement in the functioning of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. But he added: The fence is important.

Work on the barrier began in 2002, the height of a Palestinian uprising. Israel said the project was necessary to stop suicide bombers from reaching its cities. Palestinians called it a land grab that could deny them a viable state.

There has been a dramatic drop in the number of attacks in Israel over the past several years, a decrease security experts attribute to the barrier, Israeli and Palestinian Authority security steps and a change of tactics by some militant groups.

No suicide bombers have struck this year. In 2008, one person was killed in Israel by a bomber whom authorities said infiltrated from the West Bank through an area where the barrier had not been completed.

The International Court of Justice, in a non-binding decision in 2004, said the barrier was illegal and should be taken down because it crossed occupied territory.

The barrier, mainly razor-wired tipped fences but also comprised of towering concrete walls, snakes through land Israel captured in a 1967 war.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

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