WASHINGTON - The State of Israel is not the root of the Middle East’s problem and must not be blamed for the region’s troubles, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told
the AIPAC conference early Tuesday (Israel Time).
“Israel’s not what’s wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what’s right about the Middle East,” he said to the cheering audience.
Israel and the US "have forged an enduring friendship not merely between our governments but between our peoples. Support for Israel doesn't divide America. It unites America."
Netanyahu further stressed that Israel could not return to the "indefensible" 1967 lines, telling the pro-Israel lobbying group that his coming speech before Congress will outline his own vision for an eventual peace between Israel and the Palestinians. "It must leave Israel with security, and therefore Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 lines," he said.
The prime minister said recent events in the Middle East are making it clear that the region’s problems are not rooted in Israel. Referring to various regional countries, he said that the problems of citizens there have nothing to do with Israel.
“They are thinking of freedom,” he said. “It’s time to stop blaming Israel for all the region’s problems,” he said.
- For full coverage of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting and speeches click here
While peace with the Palestinians is a “vital interest” for Israel, it will not resolve problems throughout the Middle East, the PM said. “What will do that is democracy,” he added.
'Support for Israel unites America.' Bibi at AIPAC (Photo: AP)
At the beginning of his speech, PM Netanyahu thanked the Jewish lobby members for the “staunch support” they offer the Jewish State. "Israel is America’s indispensible ally," the prime minister said.
Highlighting Israel’s uniqueness in the Middle East, Netanyahu said that the Jewish State is the only place that offers Christians in the region full freedom of worship.
“Only Israel can be trusted to ensure freedom for all faiths,” he said: "This is why Israel's more than one million Muslim citizens enjoy full democratic rights. This is why the only place in the Middle East where Christians are completely free to practice their faith is in the democratic State of Israel. And this is why only Israel can be trusted to ensure freedom for all faiths in our eternal capital, the united city of Jerusalem."
Stressing the strong ties between the two countries, the PM noted that the friendship between the nations is not only limited to the political leaderships but encompasses the people as well. Netanyahu highlighted the cooperation between Israel and the US on many fronts, especially stressing the anti-missile Iron Dome system’s success.
He thanked US President Barack Obama for the US' assistance in maintaining Israel's military edge: "I want to thank the President and Congress for providing Israel with vital assistance so that Israel can defend itself by itself," he said.
Addressing the economic ties between the countries, Netanyahu noted that in recent years Israeli companies invested more than $50 billion dollars in the US.
He further noted Israel and the US' wide-range cooperation in the medical and energy fields, saying that if the joint efforts to find a substitute to fuel come to fruition "we can change history."
- To read Netanyahu's full speech click here
At some point in the speech, several protesters affiliated with the Move Over AIPAC coalition, attempted to stop Netanyahu's speech.
The protesters, five in all, rose one by one, unfurled banners, and chanted slogans. They were apprehended and escorted out by AIPAC security.
"Do you think they have these protests in Gaza?" Netanyahu reacted jokingly.
"This is the essence of the great alliance between our two nations," he concluded. "Two peoples bonded in Liberty, and seeking freedom and peace for all."
Yitzhak Benhorin and Reuters contributed to the story