WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told AIPAC activists that "Jerusalem is not a settlement" and depicted the Palestinian Authority as not taking steps for peace.
During Netanyahu’s comments on Jerusalem, the 8,000 American Israel Public Affairs Committee activists packed into the Washington Convention Center burst into lengthy cheers Monday evening, underscoring how the U.S.-Israel tensions over Israeli building in the eastern part of the city have yet to subside.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in her address Monday morning to the pro-Israel lobby’s annual policy conference described building in eastern Jerusalem as frustrating an "atmosphere of trust."
Netanyahu, who had met Clinton earlier Monday, told the AIPAC crowd that building in Jerusalem was a natural Jewish right, but stopped short of pledging to keep launching new building projects.
"The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 year ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today," he said. "Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital."
Speaking about the peace process, Netanyahu asked, "What has the Palestinian Authority done for peace? They have placed preconditions on peace talks, waged a relentless international campaign to undermine Israel’s legitimacy, and promoted the notorious Goldstone report that falsely accuses Israel of war crimes."
The Israeli leader blamed the Palestinian Authority for continued incitement.
"A few days ago, in a public square near Ramallah, the Palestinians named this square after a terrorist who murdered 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children, including the murder of an American photographer, Gail Rubin, and the Palestinian Authority did nothing."
The Palestinian Authority has refused to rejoin talks with Israel until it imposes an absolute settlement freeze; the Netanyahu government has imposed a partial freeze and has improved movement in the West Bank.
"President Abbas, come and negotiate peace," Netanyahu said. Peace, he said, was not sustainable when "Israel makes all the concessions and the Palestinian Authority makes none."
In her speech, Clinton blamed the incident involving the square on the Palestinian Authority’s Hamas rivals.
The Palestinian Authority in recent years has introduced anti-incitement measures, including mass firings of militant Islamist preachers and teachers. A number of Jewish groups say the Palestinian Authority has not done enough, citing provocative broadcasts on PA television.
The Obama administration — backed by Israeli defense officials — says PA troops in the West Bank have made strides in maintaining law and order and helping to prevent terrorism. PA leaders initially did not oppose U.S.-led efforts to quash the U.N. Goldstone report, but after their tacit cooperation was made public — reportedly through leaks by Israeli officials — they reversed course.
Netanyahu also said that Israel would not hesitate to defend itself from the Iranian nuclear threat.
"Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large," he said. "A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists — it might even be tempted to use them. Our world would never be the same."