Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday vowed that Jerusalem would never be split in any peace deal with the Palestinians, and said construction throughout the capital would continue, despite international criticism.
In a Knesset speech marking Jerusalem Day, which was on Sunday, the prime minister goaded opposition leader Isaac Herzog to clarify his position vis-à-vis Jerusalem and concessions he would be willing to make to the Palestinians. The challenge prompted an angry response from Herzog, who maintained he would never divide Jerusalem, while accusing Netanyahu of calling its unified status into question.
“Jerusalem won’t be divided again,” Netanyahu said. “It won’t go back to being a frontier or a border town.”
The prime minister praised Israeli efforts to develop the capital, while conceding that “it doesn’t mean the unification is perfect.
“It doesn’t mean that there are no problems, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t tasks [ahead of us]. There is a lot to perfect, and a lot to improve, but we will not go backwards.”
Netanyahu said that, with regard to Jerusalem, “I have a clear position — we build in Jerusalem.
“We don’t build to clash with the international community, we do this responsibly and judiciously because this is our natural right,” he continued.
Construction in Jewish neighborhoods in the capital’s eastern half has garnered many angry responses in recent years from the international community, which views East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state.
The prime minister then turned to Herzog, saying, “This is an opportunity, my friend the head of the opposition, to clarify your position.
“During elections, you were quoted as saying, ‘I see Jerusalem serving as two political capitals — in East Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state; and in the West, the capital of the Jewish state.’ On the other hand, you also said during the elections that ‘I will keep Jerusalem unified,’ and I think you have an opportunity here to tell us what your real position is,” Netanyahu said.
Herzog later responded in his address to the plenum, saying, “Jerusalem won’t be divided again.
“Your ostrich policies are splitting Jerusalem,” Herzog told Netanyahu.
“It is you who are putting a question mark around Jerusalem, and it’s unfortunate that you put that question on the agenda.”
The opposition leader added that there “was no real unity” in the capital. “Jerusalem is whole, but also divided,” he said, noting the “deep gap between East and West.”
In his address, the prime minister also said President Reuven Rivlin’s plea on Sunday to develop East Jerusalem — Rivlin had cited inequality between its Jewish and Arab residents — was “justified,” and Netanyahu added: “We need to build more there, to improve more.”
The prime minister also reiterated his statement on Sunday that Jerusalem was only ever the capital of the Jewish people.
“It must be emphasized that as a political center, as a national capital, Jerusalem was only our capital since the days of King David 3,000 years ago,” Netanyahu stated, adding that “other nations controlled it, but never made it their capital.
“The only thing that will ensure the free nature of Jerusalem, the freedom of worship, the liberalism, is Israeli sovereignty,” he continued.
Israel on Sunday marked the 48th anniversary of the capture of East Jerusalem and the Old City, including the religiously significant Old City and the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, during the 1967 Six Day War.