The Western Wall and the State of Israel will forever belong to the Jews, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday night, as he lit the eight candle of Hanukkah at the Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City.
“In recent days, I have heard that the Palestinians are saying that the Western Wall is occupied territory,” said the prime minister, referring to a speech in Gaza last week by Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal marking the terrorist organization’s 25th anniversary, in which Mashaal said that the Palestinians “cannot recognize” Israel’s legitimacy and would fight relentlessly against the Jewish state. Dating from the Second Temple era, the Western Wall, or Kotel, is the only remnant of the outer wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple, the holiest site in Judaism.
“I want to tell them from the closest possible place to the [Hanukkah] miracle of the jar of oil: The Western Wall has been ours for 3,000 years, and it and the State of Israel will be ours forever,” Netanyahu said.
In a dramatic and wide-ranging peace proposal, former prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 offered to relinquish Israeli sovereignty in the Old City, including the Wall, in favor of an international trusteeship; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud did not respond to the offer. Israel captured the Old City in the 1967 war and subsequently extended sovereignty to the area.
In his Gaza address, Mashaal had vowed that the Palestinians would not “give up any part of Palestine — it is our country, our right and our homeland.” He added that Palestine stretched “from the sea to the river, from north to south.”
Mashaal’s statements were harshly condemned by the Israeli leadership, and Netanyahu slammed Abbas for expressing willingness to reconcile with Hamas. Abbas subsequently denounced Mashaal’s statements.
However, Abbas’s denunciation failed to appease the Likud party headed by Netanyahu, which accused the PA leader of “playing a duplicitous game for his international political needs.”