Israel's Netanyahu Issues Challenge for Middle East Peace

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress for almost an hour today, calling for a fully demilitarized Palestinian state. Netanyahu was interrupted by applause 56 times from the bipartisan body, 26 of which were standing ovations.

Netanyahu began his speech by saying, “Israel has no better friend than America. And America has no better friend than Israel.” Every U.S. President since Richard Nixon has tried to reach a peace agreement with Palestine and Israel, all with little or no lasting results.

The address was in large part in response to President Obama’s comment last week suggesting the borders between Israel and Palestine revert back to the 1967 borders, which Netanyahu called, “indefensible” in his remarks. The Israeli prime minister was in obvious disagreement with Obama over terms for a future Palestinian state.

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After Obama made his comments on the on-going border dispute, the president and Netanyahu held what was termed as a “tense” meeting in the White House to discuss the issue. In his speech, Netanyahu said, “Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967,” an option shared by many key lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who criticized Obama for his earlier remarks.

The president has not offered specifics for how to return the two sides to negotiations. The issue of Israeli construction is said to be the primary reason why Palestinians are reluctant to enter into new discussions.

Just minutes into his remarks, Netanyahu was interrupted by a woman heard screaming “equal rights for Palestine” loudly from the third floor of the Capitol, outside the chamber. She also yelled, “The occupation of Palestine is indefensible.”

The prime minister highlighted and offered congratulations to the U.S. on killing Osama bin Laden, the infamous al-Qaida leader. “Congratulations, America; Congratulations , Mr. President. You got bin Laden. Good riddance,” Netanyahu exclaimed to a standing ovation.

In one of his more pointed questions, Netanyahu asked in no uncertain terms, “If the benefits to peace for the Arabs is so clear, then why has peace eluded us?”

The issue before us “never has been about a Palestinian state, but the existence of a Jewish state,” Netanyahu stated.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was singled out by Netanyahu and challenged to engage in terms mutually beneficial to both sides.

“I will accept a Palestinian state. It’s time for President Abbas to accept a Jewish state.” It is reported that the Palestinian president will consult with leaders of the Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organization on Wednesday in what is considered to be a signal for further action.

Concluding his remarks, Netanyahu emphasized the importance of negotiating a settlement. “Peace cannot be imposed. It must be negotiated.”

Christian and Jewish leaders have long been in agreement when it comes to protecting Israeli interest in the Middle East.

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