- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in an acclaimed speech to Congress yesterday, commended lawmakers for limiting U.S. aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, saying it makes clear that America “will not tolerate terrorism in any form.”

Mr. Olmert, whose speech to a joint session of Congress was interrupted more than a dozen times by standing ovations, called emphatically for an end to violence and indicated a willingness to negotiate with the Palestinian government.

“I extend my hand in peace,” he said, stressing that the Palestinian government must renounce terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Still, Mr. Olmert warned that Israel “cannot wait for the Palestinians forever.”

“Our deepest wish is to build a better future for our region, hand in hand, with a Palestinian partner, but if not, we will move forward, but not alone,” he said in reference to U.S. support.

The Israeli leader met Tuesday with President Bush and proposed a unilateral redrawing of West Bank borders if Hamas continues to reject negotiations and if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fails to persuade Hamas leaders to enter talks on the U.S.-backed “road map” to peace.

In his speech yesterday, Mr. Olmert issued a stern call for action on Iran, saying it “stands on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons” and “the international community will be measured not by its intentions but by its results.”

The powerful Senate Armed Services Committee chairman took the warning seriously. “It was a clarion call,” said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican.

Mr. Warner said he will use Mr. Olmert’s comments to push the question of how the international community should react to Iran.

Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, called the speech “one of the best” he has heard before Congress, and said it struck a balance between denouncing terrorism and showing a willingness to compromise. “I think it was a genuine reaching out for peace and I think it can help the process a great deal,” he said.

Standing before a packed House chamber, Mr. Olmert drew similarities between the United States and Israel. “We will not yield to terror,” he said.

He recognized the family of a 16-year-old American, Daniel Cantor Wultz, who was killed by a suicide bomber while visiting Israel. The boy’s parents and sister — cousins of Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican — attended the speech and emotionally accepted a standing ovation.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have been considering economic policy toward Hamas, which doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist and which the United States considers a terrorist group.

On Tuesday, the House voted 361-37 for the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which places conditions on assistance for nongovernmental organizations working in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, denies visas for members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and reduces U.S. dues payments to the United Nations by the amount of U.N. support for the Palestinians.

Mr. Olmert praised Congress’ action.

“Israel commends this Congress for initiating the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which sends a firm, clear message that the United States of America will not tolerate terrorism in any form,” he said.

The Senate has not taken action on a similar measure. The Bush administration has criticized the legislation, saying it needs flexibility to strengthen or weaken sanctions quickly, as circumstances change.

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