Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses Knesset, on May 16, 2011. Photo by Emil Salman
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday Israel was prepared to "cede parts of our homeland for true peace" with the Palestinians, but he did not believe there was a partner on the Palestinian side.

Seven days before his speech to the U.S. Congress, Netanyahu has not presented a new peace initiative and says a Palestinian government, half of it composed of Hamas, is not one Israel could make peace with.

Netanyahu said he would be willing to withdraw to the West Bank settlement blocs and leave only an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley if an agreement is reached for a demilitarized Palestinian state.

"The root of the conflict is not the absence of a Palestinian state but the Palestinian opposition to the establishment of the State of Israel," he said, addressing the Knesset a day after a wave of demonstrations marking Nakba Day in which 14 protesters died after breaching Israel's borders.

Netanyahu said Israel must stop blaming itself for the conflict and start looking at the situation with "open eyes."

"This is not a conflict about 1967 but about 1948, when the State of Israel was established," said Netanyahu. "The Palestinians call this a day of catastrophe, but their catastrophe is that their leadership has not managed to reach a compromise. Today, they still don't have a leadership that is ready to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people."

Netanyahu outlined nine points summing up his position on a peace agreement and said most Israelis agreed with it.

"The nation is united over the need to protect the state and its borders, the need to preserve the borders, the necessity to prevent Iran's nuclearization and also over the process with the Palestinians," he said.

A Palestinian state should be created only through a peace agreement, Netanyahu said, adding that Israel could not make peace with an entity intent on its destruction.

Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni slammed Netanyahu for his failure to prevent the UN vote on a Palestinian state planned for September, calling him a weak leader.

"Netanyahu has failed to rally international support for Israel's basic principles; he even failed to convince the U.S. to support us," Livni said.

"Israel needs a leader, and this government has missed its opportunity."

The breakaway Atzmaut Knesset faction headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak commended Netanyahu for his "important, sober, balanced and responsible speech."