PM: Some settlements will end up beyond Israel border

Netanyahu tells Congress Hamas isn't a partner for peace, its charter calls for killing Jews; says he's ready to make "painful compromises."

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER,
May 24, 2011 23:48
4 minute read.
PM Netanyahu addresses US Congress

PM Netanyahu addresses Congress 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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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 US Congress.

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.”

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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.”

But the 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 state.



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.”

Despite the 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 and prosperous.”

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.

On Thursday, 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 meeting.

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.

The 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.

The strong 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 anything else.”

The White House offered a muted response to Netanyahu’s 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.”

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