WASHINGTON – Everyone in the packed House chamber stood up to join a long-lasting ovation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he entered the room Tuesday to lay out his plans and conditions for Israel-Palestinian peace.
His address came as a rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech last week,in which he urged the nations to resume peace talks using the pre-1967 War borders as a starting point.
Netanyahu reiterated in his speech that Israel would not agree to return to the 1967 borders,citing demographic changes as the reason. Those borders would leave East Jerusalem and suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv out of Israeli control.
Netanyahu insisted,however,that he is still committed to a two-state solution.
“I’m willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace,” he said. “As the leader of Israel,it’s my responsibility to lead my people to peace.”
The crowd of House and Senate members on the chamber floor,plus American Israel Public Affairs Committee supporters and even a single protester in the visitors’ galleries above,gave Netanyahu standing ovations after every sentence in the beginning of his speech.
Netanyahu praised the supportive relationship between “the largest democracy,” the United States,and the “only democracy in the Middle East,” Israel.
“Only Arabs in Israel are truly free,” he said.
Just as he commended the protesters of Tunisia and Egypt for risking their lives and demanding liberty,a Jewish-American member of Codepink,a women’s activist organization,interrupted the speech.
Later identified as Rae Abileah,28,she yelled,“No more occupation,” and held up organization’s trademark,an arm’s-length pink cloth with a political message on it. A mannear her immediately used the cloth yank her to the floor before police escorted her out. She was taken to the hospital for neck injuries,according to a Codepink spokeswoman,and later arrested by U.S. Capitol Police for unlawful conduct and disruption of Congress,a misdemeanor.
Netanyahu incorporated the disruption into his speech.
“So as we share the hopes of these young people throughout the Middle East and Iran that they’ll be able to do what that young woman just did … we must also remember that those hopes could be snuffed out,as they were in Tehran in 1979,” Netanyahu said.
Addressing growing concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,Netanyahu said that because Israel “rose from the ashes of the Holocaust,” the nation takes threats of destruction very seriously. He urged the U.S. to make a statement that it will never to let Iran develop nuclear weapons.
“Militant Islam threatens the world – it threatens Islam,” he said.
While recognizing Israel as the only democratic nation in the Middle East,Netanyahu stressed the urgency to “find a way to forge lasting peace with the Palestinians.”
He said peace has been “eluded,” not because Israel does not work toward it,but because Palestinian leaders,especially Hamas,are unwilling to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
He called Hamas the Palestinian version of al-Qaida.
He called for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cut his ties with Hamas to continue peace talks.
“Peace can only be negotiated with partners committed to peace,and Hamas is not a partner for peace,” he said.
Reach reporter Pninit Danielle Cohen at [email protected] or 202-326-9868
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