Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said that the Israeli capital of Jerusalem will never again be divided, while also reiterating his commitment to restarting peace talks with the Palestinians who, in any peace agreement, would want to see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Speaking at an annual Jerusalem Day ceremony, marking 49 years since the capture of the city’s eastern part including the Old City in the Six Day War and its reunification, Netanyahu said that Jerusalem “has its problems but that we would never go back to a reality of a divided, wounded city.
“We are in Jerusalem by right and not by charity, and we will continue to develop the city for all its residents,” he said at the ceremony on Ammunition Hill.
The Six Day War in 1967 was a “rescue operation to remove an existential threat,” said Netanyahu, adding that “time and again it’s been proven that the best guarantee for our [continued] existence is our presence [here] and our ability to defend ourselves and ensure Israel’s security.”
Taking a jab at the recent peace conference in Paris on Friday aimed at setting the conditions for relaunching talks, Netanyahu said that peace was achievable through direct negotiations between the two sides “and not through international diktats.”
Such endeavors “only distance peace,” said the Netanyahu, and work to harden the Palestinians’ stance, repeating a criticism he has leveled at the conference before.
“One of the names of Jerusalem is the City of Peace. The State of Israel wants peace. I want peace and I would like to renew the peace process in order to achieve [this],” he went on, adding that this could be achieved through talks with regional countries “and after our neighbors recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.”
In pointed criticism at the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu said that there was still a long road to peace, given that “those who refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish state deny the Jewish people’s link to Jerusalem and turn the Temple Mount into a center of religious incitement.”
Israel has repeatedly accused Abbas of failing to condemn the wave of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and security forces that erupted in mid-September amid tensions surrounding the Temple Mount, and says his PA hierarchy presides over incitement to violence against Israel.
Palestinians fear Israel seeks to change the governing rules at the compound, by which Jews and other non-Muslims can access but not pray at the site — a charge Netanyahu has repeatedly denied.
Earlier in the day, Abbas marked the occasion, known in the Arab world as the “Naksa,” or “setback,” by saying that Palestinians would settle for nothing less than a full withdrawal to the June 1967 lines and East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
Taking a softer tone at the Jerusalem Day ceremony, President Reuven Rivlin said that Arabs and Jews “were destined to live together” in the city and that if everyone recognized that, Jerusalem would be “not just a city of the past, but a city of hope, a city of the future.
“We must remember that Jerusalem is a microcosm of Israeli society as a whole, and the task of bringing together all its communities and tribes is a national mission,” added the president.
The president and the prime minister spoke on Sunday amid heightened tensions surrounding the annual Jerusalem Day parade through the Old City that sees thousands of Israeli Jews marching through the Muslim Quarter waving Israeli flags, some chanting nationalist slogans.
In past years, several skirmishes were recorded, but Sunday’s event ended peacefully.