Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday for the first time acknowledged
that some settlements would end up beyond Israel’s borders in any peace deal and
hinted at a softening of his line on Jerusalem, during a landmark address to the
Though he declared that “Jerusalem must remain the united
capital of Israel,” he added that “I believe with creativity and goodwill a
solution can be found.”RELATED:Read
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The statement was the first by the prime minister
to suggest that a situation other than complete Israeli sovereignty over a
unified Jerusalem could be the endgame for one of the most contentious issues
dividing Israelis and Palestinians.
Appearing before a special joint
session of Congress, the prime minister said he was willing to make “painful
compromises” to reach a deal.
“In any peace agreement that ends the
conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders,” Netanyahu said.
“This is not easy for me because I recognize that in a genuine peace, we will be
required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland.”
prime minister also emphasized that no negotiations would happen with Hamas in
the Palestinian government – “Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian
government backed by the Palestinian version of al- Qaida” – and placed the
blame for a stalled process on the Palestinians’ refusal to accept a Jewish
The 45-minute speech was the second time Netanyahu received the
honor of addressing Congress, after doing so during his previous term as prime
minister 15 years ago.
His words were warmly received by a packed chamber
that gave him more than two dozen standing ovations, including on some of the
most sensitive points he touched upon, such as his pronouncement that “in Judea
and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers.”
historic connection between Jews and the greater Land of Israel, which he
underscored, Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to be “generous on the size of a
future Palestinian state,” which “must be big enough to be viable, independent
His description, however, did not include the term
“contiguous,” which the Palestinians are pressing for and which seemed to push
back against US President Barack Obama’s formulation in a speech he gave on
Thursday calling for a “sovereign and contiguous state.”
Elsewhere in his
speech, though, Netanyahu echoed and thanked Obama, including for prioritizing
Israel’s security and opposing a nuclear-armed Iran, in an apparent effort to
put some of the tension of the past few days behind them.
when Obama suggested basing a peace deal on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed
land swaps, Netanyahu issued a sharp refusal that was echoed before the press on
Friday in their joint public appearance following an Oval Office
On Tuesday, Netanyahu welcomed the clarification from Obama that
Israel would not be expected to return to the 1949 armistice lines. “Israel will
not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967,” he stressed.
prime minister made the same point at the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee’s policy conference on Monday night, telling the crowd that any
agreement “must leave Israel with security, and therefore Israel cannot return
to the indefensible 1967 lines.”
The sentence was the only hint Netanyahu
made during his AIPAC address to tough exchanges with Obama, and he elsewhere
focused on aid for Israel – thanking the nearly twothirds of Congress at the
dinner for the contribution even during “tough economic times” – and the common
bonds between the two countries.
Support for Israel doesn’t divide
America, Netanyahu said, “It unites America.”
His words were
enthusiastically received on Monday night, as was the message of bipartisan
support for Israel that he repeated in Congress on Tuesday.
congressional support for Israel was also on display Monday night, when
Netanyahu was proceeded by the top Democratic senator who gave a speech
critiquing sentiments expressed by Obama on Thursday.
“A fair beginning
to good-faith talks means that Israel cannot be asked to agree to confines that
would compromise its own security,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told some
10,000 AIPAC activists on Monday night.
“And I believe the parties that
should lead those negotiations must be the parties at the center of this
conflict – and no one else.”
He said deal-making must take place at the
negotiating table, and that “those negotiations will not happen – and their
terms will not be set – through speeches, or in the streets, or in the media. No
one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or about
The White House offered a muted response
speech in Congress on Tuesday.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security
adviser accompanying Obama on a trip to London, said the Israeli leader had
“reaffirmed the strength of the US-Israeli relationship” and had “pointed to the
importance of peace.”
He added, “What we’ll continue to do is reaffirm
our shared goal, which the prime minister referenced today, that a two-state
solution is in the interest of all the parties and that we have to redouble our
efforts to pursue that.”