JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he would use a rare speech to a joint session of the US Congress in May to spell out his plan for forging a lasting peace with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, in televised remarks to his Likud party, said he aimed for a durable end to the decades-old conflict, not just “peace on paper,” and that he had “set some conditions to ensure that we have such an agreement.”
“The two most important of them are, first of all, Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The second principle is real security arrangements on the ground,” he said.
Netanyahu’s comments came after Republican US House Speaker John Boehner, an ardent defender of staunch US ally Israel, announced he was inviting the prime minister to address a rare joint session of the US Congress.
“America and Israel are the closest of friends and allies, and we look forward to hearing the prime minister’s views on how we can continue working together for peace, freedom, and stability,” said Boehner.
Netanyahu delivered his first speech to a joint session of the US Congress on July 10, 1996, becoming the fourth Israeli prime minister to enjoy that particular honor.
The move came as US President Barack Obama struggled with ways to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after a wave of Arab uprisings crowded the agenda in the last few months.
Netanyahu, whose has had a difficult personal relationship with Obama, said he relished “the opportunity to present the main points of our diplomatic and security policy during my visit to the United States.”
“I very much appreciate the invitation, which symbolizes the bond the American people, the American Congress and the American administration have with the State of Israel and people of Israel,” he said.
Boehner’s office said he would formally invite Netanyahu once the US Congress approves a resolution calling for a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, a move all-but-sure to get backing from both major US parties.
Democratic House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi “looks forward to the Prime Minister’s address to the Joint Session during this critical time in history for the Middle East,” said a spokesman, Drew Hammill.
“We look forward to hearing the prime minister’s views on how we can work together to check the spread of radical Islam and promote peace, stability and prosperity in the region,” said Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
In a speech on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged Washington’s “active” leadership in ending the conflict as she cautioned the status quo between the Israelis and Palestinians is “unsustainable.”
After Clinton’s remarks, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called on Washington to clarify its position on Palestinian statehood.
“We are calling for a clear American position on Palestinian statehood within the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital and a firm position on Israeli settlement,” Nabil Abu Rudeina said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Palestinian leadership has set itself a September 2011 deadline to be ready for sovereignty, in the hope of pressuring Israel and the international community to recognise a Palestinian state on the territory that Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
A State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said Clinton sought to counter skeptics about chances for peace after she helped relaunch negotiations last September only to see them stall within weeks.
“We’re aware that some wonder whether there is any hope for progress,” Toner told reporters.
But “We’re committed to this process and that we’ll make sure we commit the energy necessary to see it fulfilled,” he added.
Toner acknowledged that the parties had agreed to a September 2011 deadline to settle core differences.
The core issues are security for Israel, the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, the status of the disputed city of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.