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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's Remarks to Joint Session of Congress

12:37 PM, May 24, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan are vital. But they're not enough. We must also find a way to forge a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Two years ago, I publicly committed to a solution of two states for two peoples: A Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state. 

I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace. As the leader of Israel, it is my responsibility to lead my people to peace.

This is not easy for me. I recognize that in a genuine peace, we will be required to give up parts of the Jewish homeland.  In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. We are not the British in India.  We are not the Belgians in the Congo.  

This is the land of our forefathers, the Land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace.  No distortion of history can deny the four thousand year old bond, between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.

But there is another truth: The Palestinians share this small land with us. We seek a peace in which they will be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens.  They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people in their own state.  They should enjoy a prosperous economy, where their creativity and initiative can flourish.

We've already seen the beginnings of what is possible.  In the last two years,

the Palestinians have begun to build a better life for themselves.  Prime Minister Fayad has led this effort. I wish him a speedy recovery from his recent operation.

We've helped the Palestinian economy by removing hundreds of barriers and roadblocks to the free flow of goods and people. The results have been nothing short of remarkable. The Palestinian economy is booming. It's growing by more than 10% a year. 

Palestinian cities look very different today than they did just a few years ago. They have shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, banks.  They even have e-businesses.  This is all happening without peace.  Imagine what could happen with peace. Peace would herald a new day for both peoples. It would make the dream of a broader Arab-Israeli peace a realistic possibility.

So now here is the question.  You have to ask it.  If the benefits of peace with the Palestinians are so clear, why has peace eluded us?   Because all six Israeli Prime Ministers since the signing of Oslo accords agreed to establish a Palestinian state. Myself included.  So why has peace not been achieved?  Because so far, the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state, if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it. 

You see, our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. This is what this conflict is about.  In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews said yes.  The Palestinians said no.  In recent years, the Palestinians twice refused generous offers by Israeli Prime Ministers, to establish a Palestinian state on virtually all the territory won by Israel in the Six Day War. 

They were simply unwilling to end the conflict.  And I regret to say this: They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name public squares after terrorists.  And worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.

My friends, this must come to an end.  President Abbas must do what I have done.  I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I said… "I will accept a Palestinian state." It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say… "I will accept a Jewish state."  

Those six words will change history. They will make clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end.  That they are not building a state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it.  They will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace.  With such a partner, the people of Israel will be prepared to make a far reaching compromise. I will be prepared to make a far reaching compromise.

This compromise must reflect the dramatic demographic changes that have occurred since 1967.  The vast majority of the 650,000 Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines, reside in neighborhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and Greater Tel Aviv.

These areas are densely populated but geographically quite small. Under any realistic peace agreement, these areas, as well as other places of critical strategic and national importance, will be incorporated into the final borders of Israel. 

The status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations.  But we must also be honest.  So I am saying today something that should be said publicly by anyone serious about peace.  In any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders.  The precise delineation of those borders must be negotiated.  We will be very generous on the size of a future Palestinian state. But as President Obama said, the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967.

We recognize that a Palestinian state must be big enough to be viable, independent and prosperous. President Obama rightly referred to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, just as he referred to the future Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people. Jews from around the world have a right to immigrate to the Jewish state.  Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they so choose, to a Palestinian state. This means that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.

As for Jerusalem, only a democratic Israel has protected freedom of worship for all faiths in the city.  Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.   I know that this is a difficult issue for Palestinians. But I believe with creativity and goodwill a solution can be found. 

This is the peace I plan to forge with a Palestinian partner committed to peace.  But you know very well, that in the Middle East, the only peace that will hold is a peace you can defend.

So peace must be anchored in security. In recent years, Israel withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza.  But we didn't get peace.  Instead, we got 12,000 thousand rockets fired from those areas on our cities, on our children, by Hezbollah and Hamas.  The UN peacekeepers in Lebanon failed to prevent the smuggling of this weaponry.  The European observers in Gaza evaporated overnight. So if Israel simply walked out of the territories, the flow of weapons into a future Palestinian state would be unchecked.  Missiles fired from it could reach virtually every home in Israel in less than a minute.  I want you to think about that too.  Imagine that right now we all had less than 60 seconds to find shelter from an incoming rocket.  Would you live that way?  Would anyone live that way? Well, we aren’t going to live that way either. 

The truth is that Israel needs unique security arrangements because of its unique size. Israel is one of the smallest countries in the world.   Mr. Vice President, I'll grant you this.  It’s bigger than Delaware.  It’s even bigger than Rhode Island. But that’s about it. Israel on the 1967 lines would be half the width of the Washington Beltway. 

Now here’s a bit of nostalgia. I first came to Washington thirty years ago as a young diplomat. It took me a while, but I finally figured it out: There is an America beyond the Beltway. But Israel on the 1967 lines would be only nine miles wide. So much for strategic depth.  

So it is therefore absolutely vital for Israel’s security that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it is vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River. Solid security arrangements on the ground are necessary not only to protect the peace, they are necessary to protect Israel in case the peace unravels.  For in our unstable region, no one can guarantee that our peace partners today will be there tomorrow. 

And when I say tomorrow, I don't mean some distant time in the future.  I mean -- tomorrow. Peace can be achieved only around the negotiating table.  The Palestinian attempt to impose a settlement through the United Nations will not bring peace. It should be forcefully opposed by all those who want to see this conflict end. 

I appreciate the President’s clear position on this issue. Peace cannot be imposed.  It must be negotiated.  But it can only be negotiated with partners committed to peace.

And Hamas is not a partner for peace. Hamas remains committed to Israel's destruction and to terrorism.  They have a charter.  That charter not only calls for the obliteration of Israel, but says ‘kill the Jews wherever you find them’.  Hamas’ leader condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden and praised him as a holy warrior.  Now again I want to make this clear.  Israel is prepared to sit down today and negotiate peace with the Palestinian Authority. I believe we can fashion a brilliant future of peace for our children. But Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of Al Qaeda.

So I say to President Abbas:  Tear up your pact with Hamas!  Sit down and negotiate!  Make peace with the Jewish state! And if you do, I promise you this.  Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations. It will be the first to do so.

My friends, the momentous trials of the last century, and the unfolding events of this century, attest to the decisive role of the United States in advancing peace and defending freedom. Providence entrusted the United States to be the guardian of liberty.  All peoples who cherish freedom owe a profound debt of gratitude to your great nation.   Among the most grateful nations is my nation, the people of Israel, who have fought for their liberty and survival against impossible odds, in ancient and modern times alike.

I speak on behalf of the Jewish people and the Jewish state when I say to you, representatives of America, Thank you. Thank you for your unwavering support for Israel. Thank you for ensuring that the flame of freedom burns bright throughout the world. May God bless all of you.  And may God forever bless the United States of America.

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