Netanyahu: Olmert needs stiff spine

Benjamin Netanyahu denied reports that the Bush administration is pressing Israel to make concessions.

In a speech to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Likud Party leader said Friday that it is up to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to stake out a position and to stick to it.

Olmert’s government lacks a clear policy going into the U.S.-led peace conference, which is expected to take place at the end of the month in Annapolis, Md.

“You have to have a spine you want to stiffen,” said Netanyahu. He insisted that Israel must not withdraw from strategically important areas in the West Bank or agree to divide Jerusalem.

Netanyahu asserted that the United States will respect the views of an Israeli prime minister who makes a firm case for what his country needs to maintain its security. Israeli concessions, he added, would not be the product of U.S. pressure, but “weakness and confusion” on the part of the Israeli government.

Netanyahu called on those in attendance to press for stronger economic measures against Iran, saying divestment and tougher sanctions are the best hope of getting the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear program. He said he was skeptical that direct talks would produce any results.

“Increased pressure would do it,” he said, but only with threat of other options – presumably military ones, – as backup.

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