Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu told the US Congress on Tuesday he would uproot settlements in a “generous” peace deal with Palestinians, but ruled out international demands to return to the 1967 borders or share Jerusalem.
In his speech to a rare joint session of the US legislature, the Israeli leader broke no substantial new ground in his positions and rejected key calls from US President Barack Obama and the international community, who have been looking for ways to revive the comatose peace process.
Netanyahu also ruled out any return to talks as long as the unity deal between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hamas continues, while saying the real stumbling block to peace was the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“In any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders,” Netanyahu said, adding he had to be “honest” with the Israeli public. “We will be very generous on the size of a future Palestinian state,” he said in a speech frequently punctuated by warm applause and at least 20 standing ovations from the US lawmakers.
But Netanyahu again ruled out any return to the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East War or dividing the holy city of Jerusalem. The Palestinians demand east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
“Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
The issue of accepting the 1967 borders basis as a starting point for negotiations has been at the core of an ongoing row between Netanyahu and Obama.
Minutes into Netanyahu’s speech, a protester stood up from the public gallery and yelled out her opposition to Israel’s policies in the occupied territories, prompting boos from the US lawmakers.
“No more occupation,” yelled the woman, identified afterward by anti-war group CODEPINK as Rae Abileah, a 28-year-old Jewish American. “Stop the Israeli war crimes.”
“You know, I take it as a badge of honour,” Netanyahu said as the woman was escorted out of the chamber.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2011.
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