Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described his vision of peace with Palestinians to the US Congress in Washington.
Netanyahu reiterated his commitment to a two state solution but re-affirmed his promise that those two states would not be created along the lines of pre-1967 borders, something that US president Barack Obama has said he believes should happen. Israel will be “generous” on the size of a Palestinian state but “firm” on where the borders would be, he told Congress, repeating comments made on Monday, when he said the 1967 borders are “indefensible” for Israel. The Israeli leader insisted that demographic changes since 1967 meant that, although Israel would give up parts of what he called its “ancestral homeland”, some Palestinian areas would have to be integrated into the eventual Israeli state.
Netanyahu also warned that he would not negotiate with any Palestinian government that included Hamas, the Islamist, Gaza-based faction that he referred to as “a Palestinian version of al-Qaeda.” Hamas has recently signed a pact with moderate, secular and West Bank-based Palestinian faction Fatah, with the two groups agreeing to hold elections. Addressing Fatah leader Mahmou Abbas directly, Netanyahu said “Tear up your pact with Hamas. Sit down and negotiate. Make peace with the Jewish state.”
Netanyahu also said that any Palestinian state would have to be wholly demilitarised, but that an Israeli military presence must be maintained along the Jordan river, in other words along the eastern border of the West Bank.
On the eventual return of Palestinian refugees, he repeated his position that the problem would have to be dealt with outside Israel’s borders and he insisted that Jerusalem would have to be Israel’s united capital and never be divided.
Israel enjoys the backing of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and Netanyahu started his address by repeating that Israel is America’s “unwavering ally” in the Middle East. Throughout his speech he was warmly applauded and received repeated standing ovations.
He congratulated President Obama and the United States for killing Osama bin Laden, adding “good riddance” to the former al-Qaeda chief. On Iran he thanked the US for standing firm and in veiled criticism to other Western powers, criticised the “silence” of some of the international community faced with Iranian calls for the destruction of Israel. “Time is running out,” he said to stop Iran getting hold of nuclear weapons, urging the US not to rule out force as “the more Iran believes all options are on the table, the less the chance of confrontation.”
Netanyahu also welcomed the recent revolutions in the Arab world, saying the events in Egypt and Tunisia evoked the scenes in Prague and Berlin as the Iron Curtain came down across Europe at the end of the 1980s. He added that Israel was an example to be followed in the region as it permits protest, has a free press and independent courts. “Israel is not what is wrong about the Middle East; Israel is what is right about the Middle East,” he said, provoking one of the loudest rounds of applause of his whole address.