In Address to Congress, Netanyahu Warns of Iran and Digs In On Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu endorsed the revolutions sweeping the Middle East while warning of a nuclear Iran and reiterating the terms of his support for a Palestinian state before a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday.

Netanyahu's address came at a time of fraught relations between the two countries. President Barack Obama, seeking to navigate the cataclysmic political changes that have reshaped the Arab world in past months, gave a speech calling for Israel to return to its borders before the 1967 Six Day War with mutually agreed land swaps as a prerequisite for peace with the Palestinians. Netanyahu rejected a return to 1967 borders, citing security concerns and calling such a move indefensible.

In his speech to Congress, Netanyahu restated this position and other starting points for a compromise with the Palestinians, including a refusal to partition Jerusalem. He said Israel would be willing to give away land to form a Palestinian state, but he blamed Palestinian refusal to recognize Israeli statehood as the main obstacle to forging a lasting peace.

So far the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it, Netanyahu said. Our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state, it's always been about the existence of a Jewish state.

Israel has been watching the rapidly unfolding Arab Spring carefully. Tumult in Syria and Egypt, both of which border Israel and whose stability and nonaggression is seen by many as a lynchpin of that Israeli security, has been a source of anxiety for the Israeli government. In his speech, Netanyahu signaled his support for pro-democracy protestors, speaking of an epic battle us now underway in the Middle East between tyranny and freedom. But he also cast Israel as an oasis of calm amidst the chaos while warning that such revolutions have veered into autocracy in the past.

In an unstable Middle East Israel is the one anchor of stability, Netanyahu said. In a region of shifting alliances Israeli is America's unwavering ally.

Foremost among the regional forces opposing democracy is Iran, Netanyahu said. He warned that time is running out on deterring Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu has repeatedly condemned a recent accord between the former Palestinian rivals Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is an internationally recognized terrorist organization. He said he refused to negotiate with a government that included Hamas.

Hamas is not a partner for peace, Netanyahu told Congress.  Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by a Palestinian version of Al Qaeda.

The speech to Congress was pre-empted somewhat in the past week by the American Israeli Political Action Committee's policy conference, an annual gathering of political heavyweights that this year featured both Netanyahu and American politicians, from Obama to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), pledging their steadfast support for Israel.

Obama and Netanyahu's relationship, never particularly warm, has become increasingly strained after Obama comments on borders for two states last week.

In a clarification, Obama told pro-Israel lobby AIPAC on Sunday that his position had been misrepresented several times after he called last Thursday for 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.

By definition, it means that the parties themselves -- Israelis and Palestinians -- will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.

He acknowledged the tension in his remarks while still affirming his commitment to Israel.

While we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad, Obama said.