"My visit here has been a source of some controversy, so I doubly appreciate the invitation," Netanyahu acknowledged in his opening remarks to the Center for American Progress.
"I'd like to talk to a progressive audience about progressive values," Netanyahu said. "I think that Israel is at the very least misunderstood."
Netanyahu spent an hour answering probing questions about Israel's own culpability in the continuing failure of peace talks to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. CAP's president and the audience pressed Netanyahu on a range of thorny areas, including a lack of prosecutions of Israelis who have attacked Palestinians and the expansion of settlements in disputed territories.
The Israeli leader stressed that he was willing to sit down with the Palestinian leader for peace talks without preconditions, but said he does not believe a peace deal is possible without two key provisions: that Palestinians accept Israel as the Jewish state and don't seek its destruction, and that Israel oversee security in any ceded territory to ensure it isn't taken over by terrorist groups.
His speech at CAP was opposed in an open letter
sent by the Arab American Institute, Jewish Voice for Peace and more than 100 progressive groups and individuals.
Netanyahu also acknowledged up front the other elephant in the room: his vociferous opposition to President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, including lobbying Congress in a speech in March at the invitation of Republican leaders.
The address infuriated the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill. His meeting with Obama at the White House Monday was their first since his address to Congress.
The current visit has been seen as something of a goodwill tour, with Netanyahu tamping down his rhetoric and taking the unusual step of participating in a CAP event. He also appeared at the conservative American Enterprise Institute on Monday night.
In his remarks at CAP, Netanyahu pointed to a new approach in dealing with issues where the U.S. and Israeli governments differ, notably Iran.
"We've had our disagreements, particular over Iran, that's clear, but I think we have no disagreement now about what to do moving forward," Netanyahu said, emphasizing that that includes "hold(ing) Iran's feet to the fire" on adhering to the deal.
Netanyahu called his sit-down with Obama a "very good" meeting.
The Prime Minister also made a point throughout the conversation to note areas where the Israeli government backs policies of importance to progressives, including LGBT and women's rights.