The Knesset and US Congress held a live, simultaneous video conference on Wednesday celebrating 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War.
In his speech from Jerusalem, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein urged Washington to declare Jerusalem the “official and unquestioned capital of the State of Israel,” stressing that under Israeli sovereignty holy sites were protected for the use of all worshipers.
“I therefore call upon the administration: follow the lead set by the House and Senate. Recognize Jerusalem as the official and unquestioned capital of the State of Israel. Bring your embassy to our capital,” Edelstein told the US lawmakers on the other end of the feed in Washington.
He also called for continued bipartisan US support for a unified Jerusalem.
Edelstein’s comments came less than a week after US President Donald Trump broke a campaign pledge by signing a waiver that defers a Congressional mandate to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In announcing the decision, the White House said Trump wanted to “maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” which he’s called ‘the ultimate deal.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Edelstein spoke from Jerusalem at the event while House Speaker Paul Ryan gave an address from Washington. In DC, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer led the session, which came days after the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution that said “Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected.”
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was in attendance at the Knesset.
Unlike Edelstein, Netanyahu did not directly refer to the embassy move or US recognition of Jerusalem, though in the past he has called on all countries to relocate their missions. Instead, the prime minister recalled the Six Day War and the city before and after its reunification.
“It’s a pleasure to address you from Jerusalem, the eternal, undivided capital of the State of Israel,” he said, to strong applause.
“Why do I say Jerusalem will never be divided again? Because I remember what it was like when it was divided,” the prime minister said. “It was a wounded, divided city that had no future.”
“We came back. We united the city… And then we proceeded to do two great things. We ensured that Jerusalem was a free city for all,” he said, referring to “unfettered, untouched” access to all holy sites for all religions. Without Israel, the city “would descend into horrible sectarian violence,” he said.
“There’s another small thing we did… we also guaranteed the freedom of markets,” he added.
US House Speaker Paul Ryan indirectly referred to Jerusalem as the “eternal, united capital,” putting the words in the mouth of Yoni Netanyahu, the prime minister’s brother who was killed in Entebbe, Uganda, as a commando during a hostage rescue operation in 1976.
Were Yoni Netanyahu to have lived to have grandchildren, he would have told them: “’After thousands of years in exile, the Jewish people are finally back home… home in the land that so many have died fighting for… Home in the eternal, united capital of Jerusalem, never to be divided again,’” Ryan said.
He also praised Jerusalem for its protection of holy sites for all faiths, where worshipers can pray “safely and peacefully.”
“Let’s not take that for granted,” he said.
“There is something so special about Jerusalem,” Ryan said, “you cannot explain it in words, but you feel it. It is unlike any other place in the world,” he added, noting the convergence of the three monotheistic religions.
In his comments, Dermer lauded the the liberation of the city in June 1967 as a “a modern-day miracle,” and thanked the US Senate for its resolution on Jerusalem.
“I don’t know if there’s a comparable moment in the history of nations,” said the Israeli envoy. “Those who witnessed it can hardly describe it. Those who lived through it will never forget it.”
He said it’s “not the Jewish people alone” who celebrate today since under Israeli sovereignty, religious sites are protected.
“If there’s a country outside of Israel that appreciates what Jerusalem means to Jews and non-Jews alike, it is the United States of America,” he said, to a smattering of applause.