Israel PM takes hard line on peace talks

Binyamin Netanyahu tells US congress that Israel will not compromise on Jerusalem or return to 1967 borders.

    Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has addressed the US congress, stressing the close ties between his country and the US and outlining his expectations for Middle East peace.

    In his speech on Tuesday, the Israeli leader stressed his country's position as a democratic "friend of America" in the region, but largely ruled out movement on the issues that are important to Palestinians.

    "Israel is not what is wrong with the Middle East," Netanyahu told US lawmakers. "Israel is what is right about the Middle East."

    He characterised the problems with the peace process in the Middle East as a Palestinian refusal to accept Israel.

    "The Palestinians have been unwilling to accept the Palestinian state if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it," Netanyahu said.

    His speech had been keenly anticipated because in an earlier address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) he had vowed to use it to speak "the unvarnished truth" about what was necessary for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Netanyahu and the US-Israeli lobby have been rattled by the explicit support by Barack Obama, the US president, for a Palestinian state alongside Israel on the basis of Israel's pre-1967 war frontiers.

    'Painful concessions'

    Netanyahu told congress that Israel was ready to make "painful concessions" and would be "very generous" about the size of a future Palestinian state, but that future borders were to be agreed in negotiations.

    He also said the issue of Palestinian refugees must be resolved outside the borders of Israel and that "Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel".

    Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

    In an earlier speech to AIPAC, Netanyahu ruled out a return to the 1967 borders [Al Jazeera]

    Saeb Erekat, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, told Al Jazeera that Netanyahu's speech indicated how unwilling the Israeli leader was to make peace.

    "We've not heard any new words in Netanyahu's speech in front of congress tonight. He's chosen to dictate, not negotiation," he said.

    "He can make peace with congress, but at the end of the day, in terms of everything he said tonight, he has proven that we don't have a partner for peace in Israel."

    In his speech, Netanyahu also called on Fatah, Abbas' party, to tear up its accord with Hamas, calling the group, which controls the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian version of al-Qaeda.

    Erekat criticised Netanyahu's demand that Fatah abandon reconciliation attempts, saying that reconciliation was a priority for Palestinians.

    "Reconciliation with Hamas is our number one priority and those who want a two-state solution, who want peace, must know the way to that must go through reconciliation," he told Al Jazeera.

    Nisreen El-Shamayleh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said that Netanyahu's demands would be seen by Palestinians as asking far too much.

    "Netanyahu says he wants to negotiate, but as far as Palestinian officials are concerned there isn't much to negotiate about," she said.

    "He doesn't want to withdraw to 1967 borders, he wants to retain major settlements, he wants to keep Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and he wants the Palestinians to declare that they relinquish the right of return ... and recognise Israel as a Jewish state."

    Also in his speech, Netanyahu took the opportunity to reiterate Israeli fears that Iran might develop a nuclear weapon and said that Iran's leaders "should be banned from every respectable forum on the planet".

    Activist interruption

    Israel enjoys strong bipartisan backing in congress, and the Israeli leader was given several standing ovations although a human rights activist did interrupt Netanyahu on one occasion.

    Rae Abileah, an activist with the US women's anti-war advocacy organisation, Codepink, told Al Jazeera that she stood up and shouted "a message about the truth of what's going on in the Israeli occupation".

    After saying "stop the Israeli war crimes, end the occupation", Abileah said she was tackled to the ground by "members of the audience", who she said were wearing AIPAC badges.

    Abileah told Al Jazeera that after the incident she was taken to hospital for treatment for neck wounds and a shoulder injury, and police then charged her with "disruption of congress and disorderly conduct".

    Netanyahu countered the interruption and physical altercation by saying such a protest was an indication of "real democracy".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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