Historic speech: Israel Prime minister receives warm welcome in Congress, expresses willingness to give up 'parts of ancestral Jewish homeland.' Israel will be generous to Palestinians, he says, but will not return to 1967 borders
Latest Update: 05.24.11
WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Unites States Congress in a historic and much anticipated speech on Tuesday. Netanyahu urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to tear up the pact with Hamas and make peace with the Jewish state and noted that Israel will withdraw from some West Bank settlements.
The Israeli premier received a particularly warm welcome in Congress including multiple standing ovations. "I'm deeply moved by this warm welcome and I'm deeply honored that you've given me the opportunity to address this congress for the second time," he said.
Netanyahu's speech in the House chamber -- a rare honor for a foreign leader -- was billed by many observers as a response to President Barack Obama's call last Thursday for peace talks "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed (land) swaps."
Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, were both on hand for the Israeli leader's remarks. Netanyahu was warmly received by Democrats and Republicans alike.
"I see a lot of old friends here and a lot of new friends as well, democrats and republicans alike," he noted. "Israel has no better friend than America and America has no better friend than Israel."
Netanyahu declared "I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve peace. As a leader it's my responsibility to lead my people to peace. It's not easy, because I recognize that in a genuine peace we will be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland."
He added: "We'll be generous about the size of the Palestinian state but as Obama said the border will be different than 1948. Israel will not return to the border of 1967."
Netanyahu stressed that Israel is not a colonial power. "The Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. We're not the British in India, or the Belgians in the Congo. This is the land of our forefathers…no distortion of history will deny the 4,000 year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land."
Netanyahu congratulated the US on the assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. "Congratulations America. You got bin laden – good riddance!"
Referring to uprisings in the Middle East, the prime minister said, "of the 300 million Arabs, only citizens of Israel enjoy basic rights."
He also thanked President Obama for his great commitment to Israel's security.
There were several disruptions during the speech, including a protestor calling for equal rights for Palestinians, to which Netanyahu replied: "In Tripoli and Iran this wouldn’t have happened, this is a true democracy."
Netanyahu reminded Congress again that Israel is the only democracy in a turbulent Middle East. "In an unstable Mideast Israel is the one anchor of stability," he said and noted Israel will always be America's friend.
Referring to the Iranian threat, Netanyahu said: "We're a nation that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust. When we say never again – we mean never again."
'Israel will negotiate on settlements'
Netanyahu noted that the status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations and said that "in any real peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel's borders."
He mentioned the withdrawal from Gaza and Lebanon and warned against a massive flow of weapons into a Palestinian state which could be fired into Israel should it withdraw from the territories.
Finally, Netanyahu addressed Mahmoud Abbas and urged him to cancel the reconciliation agreement with Hamas. "Tear up your pact with Hamas, sit down and negotiate, make peace with the Jewish state. If you do I promise you this – Israel will not be the only state to welcome a Palestinian state."
Netanyahu's speech concludes his turbulent visit in Washington which exposed acute disagreements with the US administration, most notably after his meeting with President Obama.
Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu told the AIPAC conference that the State of Israel is not the root of the Middle East’s problem and must not be blamed for the region’s troubles.
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