By Marissa Newman, Times of Israel—
“Our roots are deeper than any other nation’s, including to the Temple Mount. Jerusalem was ours and will remain ours,” he said, speaking in a special Knesset session marking Jerusalem Day.
Israel doesn’t need to “make excuses for presence in Jerusalem,” he added, but he did not definitively rule out any territorial concessions in the city.
“We remember Jerusalem up until the Six Day War,” he said, when the city was split, with Israelis excluded from the Old City and its eastern neighborhoods. “We certainly do not want to return to that situation.”
“I believe the Six Day War clarified to our enemies that we are here to stay,” he added.
The prime minister also lashed out at an “absurd and outrageous” UNESCO resolution from April that omitted the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jerusalem generally. The resolution accused Israel of “planting fake Jewish graves in Muslim cemeteries” and of “the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the so-called Jewish ritual baths or into Jewish prayer places.”
“These historical distortions are reserved solely for Jews,” Netanyahu said.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog took to the podium after the prime minister, lambasted the latter’s partial endorsement of the Arab Peace Initiative on Monday and announced that “words mean nothing without action.”
In his address, Herzog said Israel must strive for an agreement to keep Jerusalem “Jewish and moral, whole and secure.”
“Your talk about regional opportunities is very impressive, but you must take care that they are not seen as flip-flopping or empty statements,” he said to Netanyahu, referring to the prime minister’s joint press conference on Monday with new Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in which the two pledged support for parts of the 2002 Arab proposal.
“Jerusalem will not remain Jewish and moral, whole and secure if there is no dramatic change and unless we reach a peace deal,” said Herzog.
Meretz leader Zehava Galon, meanwhile, accused Jewish Home’s Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of visiting the Temple Mount earlier in the day, an allegation later denied by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
Galon said Ariel had broken a Knesset ban on lawmakers visiting the Temple Mount on Wednesday morning. Edelstein said that the information was false, and because the issue was so “volatile” it was important to emphasize that no Knesset members had visited the holy site since they were barred from the area late last year amid rising tensions in the capital.
Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) urged the government to improve infrastructure in the city’s eastern Arab neighborhoods, but emphasized that Jerusalem would remain united under any future peace agreement.
“Unfortunately, one hears talk that in order to save Jerusalem, one must divide it. The Israeli public doesn’t want the city divided, and that’s why we will remain in power,” said Elkin. “If we place a clear red line against dividing Jerusalem, as has been for years, we will be able to reach a deal, it doesn’t matter with which initiative — French, Saudi, or any other initiative.”
Israel on Sunday will mark Jerusalem Day, a national holiday that celebrates the 1967 Israeli capture of the Western Wall and Temple Mount holy sites, along with the city’s eastern half.