America's support for Israel and its right to self-defence is unshakeable, U.S. President George W. Bush told the Mideast country's parliament on Thursday.
Addressing the Knesset in Jerusalem as part of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations, Bush condemned anti-Semitism and anyone who questioned the Jewish state's right to exist, as well as those "who quietly excuse them."
"We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli leaders have made."
"We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction," Bush said to powerful applause.
He said the war on terror is an ancient ideological battle between good and evil, citing opponents such as Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Bush reaffirmed his uncompromising position on negotiating with "terrorists and radicals," drawing comparisons between the present and the beginning of the Second World War.
"As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler all this might have been avoided,' " Bush said, referring to comments by Idaho Senator William Borah, a Republican.
"We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
He said that while Israel's population may be just over seven million, "When you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong because the United States of America stands with you."
Bush's five-day Mideast journey, which includes visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is part of his ongoing effort to drive Mideast peace talks forward as he approaches the end of his tenure.
Although he made no mention of the peace negotiations in his speech, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told Reuters the president remained "hopeful" a deal could be struck by the time he leaves office in early 2009.
His repeated and unequivocal declarations of support for Israel on Thursday, however, could serve to further undermine his reputation as a peace broker to Palestinians, who received only passing mention in the president's address, the CBC's Peter Armstrong reported from Jerusalem.
With the speech coming as the two groups try to advance peace talks, "the Palestinians are going to be quick to point out that [Bush] had a lot of support for the Israelis, unflagging support, and not even a mention of them and their struggle," Armstrong said.
As Israelis continued their anniversary celebrations, Palestinians were scheduled to hold events on Thursday to commemorate what they call "the catastrophe."
Three Arab legislators were ushered out of the Knesset chamber when they held up a sign that said: "We shall overcome."
Bush also took the opportunity to oppose Iran's nuclear ambitions, saying it would be an "unforgivable betrayal for future generations" to allow it to possess some of the world's deadliest weapons.