GWEN IFILL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his vision for Middle East peace to Capitol Hill today.
NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Israeli leader drew a warm response as he entered the House chamber for the joint meeting of Congress. Then, amid frequent applause and more than two dozen standing ovations, Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Israel is ready to seek peace with the Palestinians.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli prime minister: I’m willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace. As the leader of Israel, it’s my responsibility to lead my people to peace.
Now, this is not easy for me. It’s not easy…
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: … because I recognize that in a genuine peace, we will be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland.
KWAME HOLMAN: It was the first time Netanyahu explicitly acknowledged that Israel would have to give up some West Bank settlements. But he also insisted again he will not accept borders that existed before 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and other territory in the Six Day War.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We’ll be generous about the size of the 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 boundaries of 1967.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
KWAME HOLMAN: The Israeli prime minister challenged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland. He said that means shunning the Islamic movement Hamas, which never has recognized Israel’s right to exist.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Peace can only be negotiated with partners committed to peace. And Hamas is not a partner for peace.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Hamas — Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction and to terrorism.
I say to President Abbas, tear up your pact with Hamas. Sit down and negotiate. Make peace with a Jewish state.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: 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.
KWAME HOLMAN: Netanyahu praised America as a rock-solid ally in the pursuit of peace and the war on terror.
The prime minister also urged the U.S. to go further and make certain that Iran is not allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
KWAME HOLMAN: There was one brief moment of discord, when an anti- Israel protester interrupted the speech. But Netanyahu praised her as a sign of a strong democracy.
After the speech, the prime minister spent many minutes personally greeting members of Congress, shaking hands with dozens of them inside the chamber. And outside, many lawmakers responded favorably to Netanyahu’s address, a mixture of potent political rhetoric and policy prescription.
House Republicans, including Dana Rohrabacher of California, had invited the Israeli leader to speak, and they were fulsome in their praise.
REP. DANA ROHRABACHER, R-Calif.: I think Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a very substantive and, thus, a very admirable speech. He was here staking out his negotiating positions. He wasn’t there saying, “This is everything that I’m going to demand,” because he was clearly telling us, we need to reach compromises, and here’s where we’re going to start doing the negotiations.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic Congressman Rob Andrews of New Jersey said Netanyahu’s tense session with President Obama last week had no lasting ill effects.
REP. ROBERT ANDREWS, D-N.J.: I think Prime Minister Netanyahu stood as the leader of his country and stated his views. President Obama stood as the leader of our country and stated his views. The two disagree, but I think they have done so respectfully, and I think both of them have emerged as stronger leaders as a result of that.
KWAME HOLMAN: The leaders of Congress from both parties also gathered for a post-speech photo-op, in a visual sign of support.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio speaker of the House: Today, we stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel and once again renew our historic partnership.
SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev. majority leader: For someone who has listened to a lot of speeches and a lot of speeches in the House chamber, I have to say that you have made the all-star team. That was a terrific delivery with a lot content.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Thank you. Thank you.
SEN. HARRY REID: Welcome to America.
KWAME HOLMAN: In the Middle East, Palestinian reaction was swift. A senior Palestinian official in the West Bank called Netanyahu’s parameters for a peace deal a declaration of war. Palestinian leaders meet tomorrow to consider their next step.