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Netanyahu professes faith in peace with Palestinians, urges caution over Iran

Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated Israel's commitment to peace with Palestinians. The premier gave a speech to the most powerful US pro-Israeli lobby a day after meetings with President Obama and other senior officials.

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), considered the most influential lobby for relations between the two countries. During his half-hour address, Netanyahu focused on Israeli security from the standpoint of major ongoing negotiations: the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran and an agreement for a peace deal with Palestinians.

"I've come to draw a clear line ... the line between life and death, between right and wrong, between the blessing of a brilliant future and the curses of a dark past," Netanyahu told the audience gathered to hear him speak in Washington.

Thanking the United States for its support, Netanyahu said the country had no greater backer in the world than Israel.

"America and Israel stand for life," Netanyahu said. "We stand together on the right side of the moral divide. We stand together on the right side of history.

A blow to nonproliferation efforts

Regarding Iran's atomic ambitions, Netanyahu once again cautioned leaders against trusting Tehran and urged them to place greater pressure on preventing the country from developing nuclear capabilities.

"Iran doesn't want a peaceful nuclear program ... [it] wants a military nuclear program," Netanyahu said, pointing to the country's heavy water reactor, underground enrichment facilities and its possession of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) reached a deal with Iran in November that places initial curbs on its nuclear program in return for some easing of sanctions.

Allowing Tehran to develop nuclear capabilities would be a "grave error" and "would deliver a death-blow to nonproliferation."

"How could we seriously demand any other country not enrich uranium?" Netanyahu asked, adding that other nations could follow Iran's example and develop nuclear weapons capabilites.

"That must not happen and we will make sure it does not happen," he said.

Peace with Palestinians

"Peace is Israel's highest aspiration. I am prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu's speech on Tuesday came a day after he met with US President Barack Obama, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and other congressional leaders. On Monday, the US president had implied that Israel had not yet made enough compromises to facilitate negotiations. However, Netanyahu hit back, saying Israel had taken "unprecedented steps" and, instead, placed the blame on a lack of momentum on the side of Palestinian negotiators.

Netanyahu avoided criticism of the US president, instead focusing praise on Secretary of State Kerry's tireless efforts in brokering a framework for a peace deal by the looming April deadline.

While calling on Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Netanyahu acknowledged the difficulty of a peace deal taking root quickly after so many years of bloodshed and bitterness.

"It may take years, it may take decades, for this formal acceptance of Israel to filter down to all layers of society ... [therefore] Israel needs long-term security arrangements on the ground," he said.

He added that ensuring durable peace would benefit not just Israelis and Palestinians, but also the entire region, allowing his country to spread its technological expertise to solve water and energy problems currently plaguing the region.

Netanyahu singles out boycott movement

The Israeli prime minister also criticized a Palestinian-backed boycott movement of Israeli policies, known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). The movement has gained some traction in the US, most notably by a scholars association that in December condemned Washignton's support of "Israel's violation of human rights against Palestinians."

Asking the audience if it knew what BDS stood for, Netanyahu said: "bigotry, dishonesty and shame."

The movement has not stopped interest from investors in Asia, Africa and Latin America, nor has it hindered business with technology giants Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Facebook and Yahoo, Netanyahu said.

"Israel's best economic days are ahead of it, mark my words."

kms/mkg (AFP, Reuters)

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