"I'm honored to be here… America is proud to be Israel's closest ally and best friend in the world; our alliance is unbreakable," visiting US President George W. Bush told a special Knesset session held in his honor Thursday.
"You have worked tirelessly for peace and freedom. When Americans look at Israel we see a pioneering spirit, talent and determination of a free people refusing to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny," Bush said.
Bush went on to criticize the deadly tactics of extremist groups and denounced anti-Semitism, especially by those who want to wipe the nation "off the map."
"We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to civilized society, so we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms, whether by those who openly question Israel's right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them," he said.
Ceremony at Knesset (Photo: Tess Shaplan, Genie)
Bush pledged that the United States has an unbreakable bond with Israel.
"Some people suggest that if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away," the US president said in his prepared address.
"This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of our enemies, and America rejects it utterly. Israel's population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you."
During the historic address Bush also referred to the Iranian threat, saying that allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons would be an "unforgivable betrayal of future generations."
"Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," the American leader said.
"America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions."
Bush continued to say that "in 60 years Israel will be celebrating its 120th Independence Day, the Palestinians will have their own state… Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, Hamas, al-Qaeda and Hizbullah will be defeated, the Middle East will be a peaceful region and Israel and its neighbors will be best of friends."
'Israeli public will support peace deal'
Earlier Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset, 'The deep friendship between Israel and the US is not taken for granted… We share the vision of a better world; we share the distinction between a way of life worth protecting and one which suppresses freedom and democracy.
"Throughout the years," added Olmert, "our alliance has only gotten stronger. The US was the first world nation to recognize Israel upon its induction and was the first to lend it a helping hand."
Olmert and Bush at Masada (Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO)
Speaking directly to Bush, the Israeli prime minister said "this visit was a great opportunity to push the Israeli Palestinian peace process forward.
"When we reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, God willing, one which is based on your vision of a two-state solution, it will be brought before this house…. This future peace agreement, I assure you, will be approved by this house and by the Israeli public," he added.
Several right-wing MKs walked out of the chamber as Olmert spoke.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud), who addressed the plenum before Bush, said "we welcome today a great friend of Israel… since the induction of Israel the US has stood by our side time and again, and for that we and the Israeli people, thank you.
"The beginning of the 21st century sees us facing yet another threat. You have challenged this threat and you are tireless in your fight against terror and tyranny... Israel strives for regional peace in order to strengthen the moderate forces and weaken the radical ones," added Netanyahu. "For that to happen Israel will have to maintain its borders. It must be able to protect itself and the future peace."
Bush and his wife Laura were welcomed at the Knesset by Speaker Dalia Itzik and an honorary guard. After a short ceremony, which included the national anthems of both Israel and the US, Bush placed a wreath on the Knesset's monument for fallen Israeli solders, and then proceeded to sign the Knesset guest book, kept in the Chagall Hall.
Prior to the speaking before parliament, President Bush attended a meeting at the Knesset speaker's chambers. The meeting, also attended by Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Opposition leader Netanyahu and several senior US officials, lasted some 30 minutes.
Bush's visit to the Knesset began with a formal reception held in honor of the presidential entourage. The highlight – songs preformed by Israel's American School children's choir. The Choir, made up of the children of diplomats stationed in Israel, accompanied Bush's entrance to the Knesset.
Thursday morning saw Bush, Olmert and their wives visit Masada. The four were shown around the site by Eitan Capable, of the Israel National Parks Society.
Once finished with the formalities of their Knesset visit and other tour duties, the presidential couple is scheduled join Olmert and his wife, Aliza, for dinner.
Roni Sofer contributed to this report