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Mr. Popular

Middle East | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to a smitten Congress

WASHINGTON-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed American politicians how it's done.

In a speech to a joint meeting of Congress Tuesday, Netanyahu drew dozens of standing ovations, bursts of applause, and raucous cheers, making little news but working his audience to show how strong support in Congress is for Israel.

"Israel has no better friend than America, and America has no better friend than Israel," the conservative prime minister said, one of many applause lines. "In an unstable Middle East, Israel is the one anchor of stability. . . . You don't need to do nation building in Israel. It's already built. You don't have to export democracy to Israel. We've already got it."

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Netanyahu's body language spoke of how comfortable he was in the United States Congress: He leaned easily to the side, his elbow propped on the lectern, crossed his leg. He turned and tossed a couple jokes back to Vice President Joe Biden, who was sitting behind him during his speech. When a protestor stood in the middle of his speech and shouted about Israeli war crimes, he didn't flinch, but pivoted: "In a free society, you can have protests. In the farcical parliament of Tehran, you can't have protests." He said young people in the Middle East are rising up so "that they'll be able to do what that young woman just did."

Still foremost in headlines was the kerfuffle after President Barack Obama suggested in his speech on the Middle East last week that the 1967 borders and mutually agreed swaps would be a starting point for peace talks. Netanyahu again showed his political adeptness with Congress, noting that if Israel was drawn along the 1967 borders, it "would be half the width of the Washington beltway." He previously called the 1967 borders proposal "indefensible," and in his address to Congress he quoted President Obama, saying that "the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967." Obama made that remark on Sunday, when he spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a top pro-Israel lobby. Obama stood by his original statement but explained his proposal meant that negotiations could still "account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years."

Netanyahu, who met with Obama before the president left for a trip to Europe, didn't back down either from his rejection of the 1967 borders: "I will be generous on the size of the Palestinian state, but we will be firm about where we put the border." As for Jerusalem, he said it should never be divided: "Only a democratic Israel has protected the freedom of worship for all faiths in the city." He called for the Palestinian Authority to cut all ties to Hamas. "It's time for [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas to stand before his people and say, 'I will accept a Jewish state,'" Netanyahu said to wild cheers. "Those six words will change history."

Netanyahu also spoke of the imminent threat of a nuclear Iran: "Time is running out. The greatest danger of all could be soon upon us." Then he addressed the international community's response to the threat: "There is something that makes the outrage even greater-it is the lack of outrage." But again, winning his audience, he said, "Not you. Not America."

Like a candidate running for president, he waved to the standing audience at the end of his speech-the audience waved back.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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