Jerusalem to remain united forever, Netanyahu says

Marking anniversary of Six Day War victory, prime minister calls capital ‘heart of the nation’; statistics show growing religious population

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to students at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem on May 28, 2014. (screen capture: YouTube)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to students at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem on May 28, 2014. (screen capture: YouTube)

Jerusalem will remain united forever, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, dismissing Palestinian demands that it serve as a shared capital as Israel marked the anniversary of the capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War.

Speaking at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, a nationalist-religious Jewish learning institution in the capital, Netanyahu said that in the 47 years since Israel wrested East Jerusalem from Jordanian control, the city has been united: “That’s how it’s been since and that’s how it will always be.”

“Jerusalem is also Mount Zion, Jerusalem is Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount), Jerusalem is the Western Wall, and Jerusalem is eternally Israel,” the prime minister said, cataloging sites of historical and religious significance to Jews in the areas of the city captured in 1967.

Once thought taboo in Israeli political circles, the idea of dividing or sharing part of Jerusalem with the Palestinians has gained traction with some Israeli politicians over recent years. Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert endorsed splitting the city in negotiations with the Palestinians in 2008, and other senior lawmakers, including Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi, have also endorsed negotiating over the capital.

In October, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni vowed to stymie a Knesset bill which would prevent the government from negotiating over dividing Jerusalem.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the future capital of their independent state.  Though Israel essentially annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, the international community did not recognize the move and Israeli building there is considered by many illegal.

According to Central Bureau of Statistics numbers released to mark Jerusalem Day, 37 percent of the 815,000 residents of Jerusalem are Arab.

Netanyahu described Jerusalem as “the heart of the nation” in his speech to an assemblage of Orthodox yeshiva students. “We are safeguarding our heart, the heart of the nation.”

“There is a special spirit here, and this spirit is channeled through one place, Jerusalem,” he said.

According to CBS data, 35 percent of Jewish Jerusalemites defined themselves as ultra-Orthodox in 2013, up 5% from 2007. An additional 30% define themselves as religious, 14% consider themselves “traditional” and a mere 20% consider themselves secular. The traditional and secular population of the city dropped seven points in the past decade, the CBS survey found.

The prime minister also touted the numerous infrastructure projects currently underway, including the high-speed rail link to Tel Aviv and the widening of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

“We are attending to the construction, development and prosperity of Jerusalem, and there’s a lot of work,” he said.

Critics have of late been pointing out systematic neglect of East Jerusalem’s infrastructure. In March of this year, 50,000 Arab residents of East Jerusalem went without water for several days after the municipal water company cut off supply.

Jerusalem Day was marked by clashes between police and rioters on the Temple Mount, in which at least one police officer and several Muslim worshipers were injured.

According to the Israel Police, the Temple Mount complex, which includes the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, was closed for the remainder of the day for security reasons.

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