WASHINGTON - In a speech short on substance but long on applause lines, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated Monday night to more than 10,000 AIPAC supporters that Israel would never return to the 1967 lines.
Saying that he would spell out in his speech to Congress Tuesday how Israel saw a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Netanyahu did say - to a loud round of applause - that any agreement “must leave Israel with security, and therefore Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 lines.”
This was the only hint Netanyahu made during the address of the tension over the last few days surrounding US President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech Thursday in which he called for Israel to return to the 1967 lines with mutual agreed swaps - a call the President himself clarified in an address of his own Sunday at AIPAC did not mean a full return to the June 4, 1967 lines.
In his only reference to Obama during the speech, Netanyahu said the President has spoken about his “ironclad commitment to Israel's security;” has spoken about that commitment not only in front of AIPAC but in speeches heard throughout the Arab world; and has “backed those words with deeds."
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“I know these are tough economic times,” Netanyahu said to the audience that included nearly two-thirds of the members of Congress, “so I want to thank the President and Congress for providing Israel with vital assistance so that Israel can defend itself by itself.”
Netanyahu’s speech was interrupted a couple of times by protesters, whose heckling was drowned out by cheers from the crowd, and who were then escorted out of the hall.
At one point Netanyahu, who was in good humor throughout the warmly received address, said, “DO you think they have these protests in Gaza?” And then, referring to the cheering that drowned out the hecklers, said, “what a way to get a standing ovation."
Netanyahu’s address was preceded by strong pro-Israel speeches delivered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (Republican).
Netanyahu opened his address by saying that Israel was grieving with the US over the loss of lives from the recent tornados and floods. He then went on to thank the supporters in the hall, and “the millions of our supporters across this great land,” for their “staunch commitment to Israel's security,” and for “defending Israel's right to defend itself.”
Netanyahu, who the night before took a walk with his wife to the city’s Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, spoke to the shared values of the two countries encapsulated in those memorials.
“I read Lincoln's immortal address reaffirming ‘Government of the people, for the people, and by the people,’ he said. “You know why these words resonate so powerfully with me and with all Israelis? Because they are rooted in ideas first championed by our people, the Jewish people. The idea that all men are created in God's image. That no ruler is above the law. That everyone is entitled to justice."
Netanyahu said these “revolutionary Jewish ideas” were spoken thousands of years ago “when vast slave empires ruled the earth.”
“Israel is the cradle of our common civilization, crucible of our moral ideals,” he said. “The Jewish state was founded on these eternal values. This is why Israel's more than one million Muslim citizens enjoy full democratic rights. This is why the only place in the Middle East where Christians are completely free to practice their faith is in the democratic State of Israel. And this is why only Israel can be trusted to ensure freedom for all faiths in our eternal capital, the united city of Jerusalem."
Support for Israel doesn't divide America, Netanyahu said, “It unites America."
Saying that he would address the developments in the Arab world at his address to Congress, Netanyahu said that what was unfolding there, however, highlighted a simple truth: “The problems of the region are not rooted in Israel.”