Netanyahu says he will ‘never divide Jerusalem,’ could accept a centrist coalition

In Channel 2 interview, prime minister says he doubts most Israelis would cede partial sovereignty in capital, sets out preconditions for Palestinian state

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Channel 2's Yaakov Elon on Monday. (photo credit: image capture from Channel 2)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Channel 2's Yaakov Elon on Monday. (photo credit: image capture from Channel 2)

Jerusalem will not be divided “so long as I’m prime minister,” Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Monday night Channel 2 broadcast. Asked by Yaakov Elon about polls showing two-thirds of Israelis support the division of the city as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, the prime minister responded, “I don’t buy it” and stressed that Hamas would be at the walls of Israel’s border if Jerusalem were split.

Netanyahu cited the importance of his late father Benzion’s ideology and its influence on how he thinks, noting the “privilege” of being in the Land of Israel.

Remembering Jerusalem before the 1967 war, with a wall along King George Street and shooting into the city, the prime minister asked, “Is this what we want… an agreement, with Hamas soldiers at the border?”

Israel extended sovereignty throughout the city after capturing East Jerusalem and the Old City from Jordan in 1967. Previous prime minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians sovereignty in East Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, and proposed a multi-nation non-sovereign trusteeship for the Old City, in a 2008 offer to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas did not respond to the offer.

Regarding a Palestinian state, Netanyahu said that three conditions must be met for it to become a reality. First, he said, the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Secondly, they must declare an end to the conflict. Finally, Netanyahu said, any Palestinian state must be demilitarized, with security arrangements meeting Israeli approval.

Netanyahu refused to respond to questions about former intelligence heads Yuval Diskin and Meir Degan, both of whom have been critical of the prime minister, notably over his handling of the Iranian nuclear threat, referring to the issue as “not serious.”

Discussing the upcoming elections, Netanyahu expressed willingness to form a broad-based coalition with center-left parties, but claimed they had negated the possibility in advance. He also said they would have to follow the government line on certain matters regarding security and finance. When asked by Elon if Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich could be finance minister, Netanyahu chuckled.

The prime minister said that Israel had faced 9.5 percent unemployment, the same level as Europe, when he became prime minister, but that, following his open market policies, Israel now has 7% unemployment, compared to social democratic Europe’s 12% figure.

Netanyahu said in the Monday night broadcast that the next budget will be bigger than the current one, and that taxes had already been raised. He would not rule out taxes being raised again, but said he didn’t plan on new taxes. He also addressed the prospect of a growing entitlement state, saying, “I’m not willing to have a never-ending, growing budget.”

Yachimovich last week rejected the possibility of joining a Likud-led government. Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid also initially said he would not be the “fifth wheel” in a right-wing/ultra Orthodox coalition, but later called for his and other center-left parties to join Netanyahu’s government to the exclusion of far-right and religious parties.

The prime minister’s talk of a broad coalition came after a failed attempt by Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni to form a bloc against Netanyahu with Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Labor. Discussion of the idea by the three on Sunday night ended in failure and the trading of recriminations on Monday. Netanyahu said he was “prepared [to form] a broad coalition, but they reject it out of hand.”

Asked whether he would prefer to form a more centrist government or one including religious and far-right wing parties, the prime minister responded: “I have not yet been elected, but I very much hope to be elected. I want a broad government that would be built first and foremost on the large ruling party of Likud-Beytenu.”

Regarding the inclusion of Lapid, Yachimovich, or Livni in a future government, Netanyahu said he did not dismiss the possibility — but, rather, they had dismissed the possibility of joining him. “Whoever wants to join us will need, of course, to go in the diplomatic and economic direction that I think is responsible and proves itself,” he said.

Netanyahu conceded the possibility of appointing Livni a minister in his potential future government, but said that he alone would dictate the government’s relationship with the Palestinians. As for Yachimovich, he said her appointment to a position in the government would depend entirely on her.

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