WASHINGTON - Addressing an enthusiastic joint session of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that he was willing to make "painful compromises" to reach a comprehensive peace with Palestinian Arabs, but only if they agreed to live with a Jewish state whose territory included the suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
In a 45-minute speech punctuated by 29 standing ovations - an unusually high number for a foreign leader before Congress - Netanyahu reiterated that "Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967," which President Obama said in a major speech last week should be the starting point of peace negotiations.
The spirit of Obama's remarks reflected the positions of former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. But Obama's overt call for using the 1967 lines - adjusted by mutually agreed land swaps - was controversial, especially when Netanyahu publicly criticized him in the Oval Office the next day.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu repeated his stand, but this time in front of a warm, appreciative, bipartisan audience of U.S. lawmakers.
Netanyahu did signal a willingness to give up some Israeli settlements, probably in the West Bank, saying: "In any agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel's borders."
"This is not easy for me . . . because I recognize that in a genuine peace we will be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland," he said.
After the speech, congressional leaders of both parties made clear they were firmly allied with the prime minister.
"Today we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel and once again renew our historic partnership," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) said outside his office, joined by other congressional leaders and Netanyahu. "The work of achieving a safe and secure Israel has never been easy, but the cause is right."
In his address, Netanyahu spelled out Israel's terms and ruled out several aspects of Palestinian aspirations.
"We'll be generous about the size of the future Palestinian state," Netanyahu said. "But as President Obama said, the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967."
Suburban Jerusalem and Tel Aviv would remain part of a Jewish state, he said, emphasizing that the vast majority of the 650,000 Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines reside in those neighborhoods.
He reaffirmed that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel.
"And under any realistic peace agreement, these areas, as well as other places of critical strategic and national importance, will be incorporated into the final borders of Israel," Netanyahu said.
Palestinians contest those points, and Tuesday Palestinian officials rejected Netanyahu's overall peace package.
In the West Bank, Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, called the speech "a declaration of war against the Palestinians."
In Gaza, the extremist group Hamas fumed that "Netanyahu denied us all our rights."
"We must work to adopt an Arab and Palestinian strategy based on the right of resistance," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, referring to armed attacks on Israeli targets.
In lieu of talks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is campaigning to obtain U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood when the General Assembly meets in September. Israel and the United States oppose this strategy, calling instead for a negotiated solution.
Netanyahu, in his speech to Congress, remained firmly opposed to the return of millions of Palestinian refugees, their families, and descendants to land they once lived on before it became Israel in 1948 - another key goal of Palestinian negotiators in the past.
Support on the Hill
"Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they so choose, to a Palestinian state," he said. ". . . It means that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel."
That line was one of many that brought House and Senate members to their feet.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) seemed to set the congressional tone Monday night when he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby: "I will make sure the United States stands with Israel every time."
He appeared to rebuke Obama implicitly, saying: "Those negotiations will not happen - and their terms will not be set - through speeches, or in the streets, or in the media. No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building, or about anything else."
And on Tuesday, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), chairman of a Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee that deals with the Middle East, distanced himself from Obama's call to use the pre-1967 boundaries as a starting point for negotiations.
During a keynote speech to AIPAC, Casey said: "Israel's borders must be defensible and must be determined by the parties on the ground." Imposing a settlement, Casey said, "is not "compromise - that's coercion."