Addressing the U.S. Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel is ready to take risks for peace with Palestinians, but says his government will not yield to terrorism. The Israeli leader called on the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority to renounce violence and recognize Israel, and also urged the world to face up to what he calls the gathering storm of Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Prime Minister Olmert said he extends his hand in peace to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and is confident the two sides can reach agreement on all issues dividing them.
However, he added that cannot happen without a Palestinian renunciation of terrorism and recognition of Israel's right to exist.
"But if there is to be a just, fair and lasting peace, we need a partner who rejects violence and who values life more than death," he said. "We need a partner that affirms in action, not just in words, the rejection, prevention and elimination of terror."
Saying Israel will not compromise on the need for peace with security, Prime Minister Olmert recalled Palestinian suicide bombing attacks that caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries in Israel.
Israelis know from their history, he said, that they must be willing to take big risks for peace, and called on Palestinians to be a genuine partner.
But he said while Israel still considers the U.S.-backed Mideast Road Map for Peace as the right plan, it is not willing to wait forever, repeating his government's readiness to unilaterally establish its final borders by the year 2010.
"Should we realize that the bilateral track with the Palestinians is of no consequence, should the Palestinians ignore our outstretched hand for peace, Israel will seek other alternatives to promote our future and the prospects of hope in the Middle East," he added. "At that juncture, the time for realignment will occur."
If the Palestinian leadership refuses to fulfill its commitments under the Road Map, Olmert added, Israel will not give what he called a terrorist regime "a veto over progress or allow it to take hope hostage."
Prime Minister Olmert said Palestinians could be living in a Palestinian state, side by side in peace and security with Israel, but added no one can make this happen for them if they refuse to make it happen for themselves.
Perhaps the strongest statements by Prime Minister Olmert dealt with what he called the dark and gathering storm casting its shadow over the world, namely the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
Asserting that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, he urged the United States and international community to respond.
"The radical Iranian regime has declared the United States its enemy," he said. "Its president believes it is his religious duty and his destiny to lead his country in a violent conflict against the infidels. With pride he denies the Jewish Holocaust and speaks brazenly, calling to wipe Israel off the map. For us, this is an existential threat. A threat to which we cannot consent. But it is not Israel's threat alone. It is a threat to all those committed to stability in the Middle East and the well being of the world at large."
Prime Minister Olmert said the world must face up to the threat.
"Our moment is now! History will judge our generation by the actions we take now, by our willingness to stand up for peace and security and freedom and by our courage to do what is right," he added. "The international community will be measured not by its intentions but by its results. The international community will be judged by its ability to convince nations and peoples to turn their backs on hatred and zealotry. If we don't take Iran's bellicose rhetoric seriously now, we will be forced to take its nuclear aggression seriously later."
The Israeli leader's remarks on Iran came as senior officials from the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain, along with Germany met in London to discuss possible ways to narrow differences with Tehran over its uranium enrichment efforts.