Netanyahu: Palestinians Are Holding Up Peace

Washington -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lay out his vision of a settlement with the Palestinians in a speech to Congress Tuesday morning. His speech follows an appearance Monday night where he told the main U.S. Jewish lobby that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists because the Palestinians "refuse to end it."

Washington -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lay out his vision of a settlement with the Palestinians in a speech to Congress Tuesday morning.

His speech follows an appearance Monday night where he told the main U.S. Jewish lobby that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists because the Palestinians "refuse to end it."

In his remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Netanyahu said Israel wants peace, "because we know the pain of terror and we know the agony of war."

But, he added, "this conflict has raged for a nearly a century because the Palestinians refuse to end it. They refuse to accept the Jewish state."

He also repeated his argument that Israel's pre-1967 borders were "indefensible."

Netanyahu: Palestinians Are Holding Up Peace

Palestinian officials have refused to enter into new talks with Israel on the decades-old conflict until Israel stops building settlements on occupied West Bank land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Netanyahu's government has rebuffed U.S. calls for a halt to new settlements and criticized the Palestinian Authority's recent reconciliation with the Islamic fundamentalist movement Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza and refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist.

There was no immediate response to the speech from the Palestinian side.

Netanyahu's address to AIPAC was interrupted at least twice by hecklers from the American anti-war activist group Code Pink, which criticized what it called "the theft of Palestinian land" and the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

AIPAC is a major force in U.S. politics, making significant campaign donations and drawing top administration and congressional leaders to its conventions.

President Barack Obama addressed the group Sunday. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, spoke Monday night.

In his speech Sunday, Obama repeated a line from a Thursday address that the "status quo" in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is unsustainable and that Israel's pre-1967 borders should be the starting point for negotiations over the shape of a future Palestinian state, with land swaps to deal with changing conditions of recent decades.

The proposal is a longstanding formulation in peace talks that Obama expressed as official U.S. policy for the first time, but it was immediately rejected by Netanyahu as unrealistic and prompted criticism from Obama's domestic political opponents.

Obama defended the position Sunday, saying any controversy was "not based in substance."

"It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation," Obama said to applause. "It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years," including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides."

But Obama also criticized the Palestinian push to seek U.N. recognition of an independent state and the Palestinian Authority-Hamas agreement to hold unifying elections in 2012.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Washington, and Obama said Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with the group until it renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said Monday, the "Arab Spring" now rocking governments across the Middle East demonstrates that the region's problems "are not rooted in Israel."

He said the protests -- which have toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia and led to uprisings in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain -- are happening "for a simple reason: People want freedom."

"It's time to stop blaming Israel for all the region's problems," he said.

Peace with the Palestinians is "a vital interest" to Israel, he said, "But it is not a panacea for the endemic problems of the Middle East."

CNN