WASHINGTON -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged yesterday to make "painful compromises" for peace with the Palestinians, for the first time explicitly saying that some West Bank settlements would find themselves outside Israel's final borders.
He also tacked on a list of often-stated conditions that have been unacceptable to the Palestinians. A senior Palestinian official in the West Bank immediately rejected Netanyahu's peace outline as a "declaration of war."
Speaking before a warmly receptive joint meeting of Congress that showered him with more than two dozen sustained standing ovations, Netanyahu said Israel wants and needs peace but repeated his flat rejection of a return to what he called the "indefensible" borders that Israel had before the 1967 Middle East war.
He also restated Israel's refusal to repatriate millions of Palestinian refugees and their families to homes in Israel that they lost in fighting over the Jewish state's 1948 creation.
Netanyahu maintained anew that contested Jerusalem could not be shared with the Palestinians, who want the eastern sector of the holy city as capital of their hoped-for state. He insisted that Israel maintain a long-term military presence on what would be the eastern border of a Palestinian state.
"Israel will never give up its quest for peace," Netanyahu said, adding that he is "willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace." But he said Israel would not negotiate with terrorists and urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to rip up a power-sharing agreement that his moderate Fatah faction has signed with the militant group Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist.
In the West Bank, Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, called Netanyahu's speech "a declaration of war against the Palestinians."
Israel, which enjoys strong bipartisan backing in Congress, has been rattled by President Barack Obama's support for drawing the future borders of a Palestinian state and a Jewish state on the basis of Israel's pre-1967 war frontiers.
Netanyahu has challenged the president's position repeatedly, ignoring Obama's assertion that the territorial markers could be adjusted through agreed land swaps. The Palestinians accept that principle, which would allow Israel to retain major West Bank settlement blocs and help to assure its security.
In his speech before Congress, Netanyahu backed off from his dispute with Obama.