OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown became the first British premier to address the Israeli Knesset on Monday, July 21, calling for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and establishing Jerusalem as the capital of both Palestinian and Israeli states.
"Today there is one historic challenge you still have to resolve so that your 60-year journey into the future is complete: peace with your neighbors and throughout the region," Brown told the Knesset, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
To deliver such a deal, "it is vital also that both sides now create the conditions for a final agreement," Brown said.
Brown, on his first visit to Israel and the West Bank since becoming prime minister in June 2007, called on Israel to freeze settlement construction and withdraw from the West Bank.
"It would require Israel freezing, and withdrawing from, settlements and like many of your friends, I urge you to make these decisions," he said, drawing a shout from one person in the chamber.
Israel’s settlement activities have been one of the main obstacles to the Middle East peace process.
Israel is pushing ahead with plans to build hundreds more homes in the occupied West Bank, infuriating Palestinians and drawing international criticism.
The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land illegal.
"As a constant friend of Israel, I want to offer the comfort of my support and the support of the British government — and also my honest analysis," Brown said.
"I believe that a historic, hard-won and lasting peace that can bring security on the ground is within your grasp… I urge you to take it by the hand."
Brown said creating a Palestinian state to live beside Israel with both sharing Jerusalem as their capital will be the key to peace in the Middle East.
This would entail "a democratic Israel, secure from attack, recognized by and at peace with all its neighbors alongside a peaceful, democratic and territorially viable state of Palestine that accepts you as its friend and partner."
Jerusalem would be the "capital for both," and there would be a "just and agreed settlement for refugees," he added.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the six-day 1967 war before annexing and declaring it part of its eternal undivided capital, a claim not recognized by the UN or the world community.
The holy city is home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam’s third holiest shrine Al-Aqsa Mosque, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Palestinians insist the holy city will be the capital of their future state.
Brown warned Iran, Israel’s arch foe, with further sanctions if it failed to halt its nuclear program.
"Our country will continue to lead, with the United States and our European partners, in our determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program.
"We stand ready to lead in taking further sanctions and will ask the whole international community to join us."
The six major power, the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, have offered Iran financial and diplomatic incentives to halt its nuclear program.
After talks in Geneva ended in stalemate on Saturday, the major powers gave Iran two weeks to answer calls to rein in its nuclear activities or face tougher sanctions.
British government officials with Brown said sanctions would be ratcheted up against Iran, possibly including sanctions on the oil and gas industry, if Tehran failed to halt its nuclear program.
They said such sanctions could seek to target Iran’s domestic energy market by making it difficult for Iran to obtain equipment and spare parts for its refineries.
The West fears that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb, but Tehran says its nuclear program aims at generating energy for a growing population.
"Iran has a clear choice to make: suspend its nuclear weapons program and accept our offer of negotiations or face growing isolation and the collective response, not just of one nation, but of all nations aground the world," said Brown.
(IslamOnline.net and news agencies)