PM, president hail ‘historic’ Jerusalem recognition, say it won’t hurt peace

Netanyahu stresses no change to status quo on Temple Mount, says Israel ‘profoundly grateful’ to Trump

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday led the chorus of glowing praise for US President Donald Trump over his “historic” decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with the top Israeli leaders insisting the move will not hurt peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Over the objections of the Arab world, the Palestinians and numerous European states, the US president broke with decades of American and international policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday.

Trump also for the first time personally endorsed the concept of a “two-state solution” for Israel and the Palestinians, provided both sides agree to it.

Minutes after he finished speaking, Netanyahu said Israel was “profoundly grateful” to the US president for his “courageous and just” decision to both recognize the capital and kick off preparations to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

“This is a historic day,” said Netanyahu.

The prime minister also stressed that Israel will maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount, which has been under Jordanian custodianship since 1967 and where Jews may visit, but not pray.

“The president’s decision is an important step towards peace, for there is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel,” said Netanyahu in a video statement. He urged other countries to follow the US’s lead and move their embassies to Jerusalem.

“I share President Trump’s commitment to advancing peace between Israel and all of our neighbors, including the Palestinians,” the prime minister continued. “This has been our goal since Israel’s first day.”

President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

“I also want to make clear: There will be no change whatsoever to the status quo at the holy sites,” said Netanyahu, promising freedom of worship for all religions.

He concluded by thanking Trump, and noting: “The Jewish people and the Jewish state will forever be grateful.”

The Israeli president also swiftly applauded the decision.

“There is no more fitting or beautiful gift, as we approach 70 years of the State of Israel’s independence,” said Rivlin of Trump’s announcement.

“Jerusalem is not, and never will be, an obstacle to peace for those who want peace. As it is written, ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may all that love her prosper, may there be peace in her quarters and palaces,’” added the president.

US President Donald Trump and President Reuven Rivlin shake hands following a press conference at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the “historic declaration sends a clear message to the entire world that the US stands alongside the Jewish people and Israel.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, in a statement, compared Trump to the biblical Persian king Cyrus, whose decree allowed for a Jewish return to Jerusalem.

“Trump, in his generation, is like Cyrus of that generation,” said Shaked. She thanked the US president for withstanding “heavy international pressure” and pressing ahead with the declaration.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting on July 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The Palestinians need to know: The rules of the game have changed. The ship has changed course. I recommend they not test Israel’s patience with their terror threats,” added Shaked.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Labor chairman Avi Gabbay, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, among others, also reacted to the news.

Edelstein and Bennett both released video statements thanking the US president.

“Jerusalem has always been and will always stay the capital of Israel. But now, we have an official recognition coming from Washington, DC, and I want to express my gratitude to the President of the United States for his important statement,” said Edelstein. “To my fellow citizens, I want to remind that justice and truth is on our side. And we won’t let anyone threaten us.”

Bennett lauded Trump for going ahead with the announcement despite domestic pressure.

“You also faced huge pressures from within, but you did it,” he said. “I call upon the rest of the world to follow.”

From the opposition, Gabbay similarly commended the announcement.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and the countries of the world must recognize that,” said Gabbay. “After 70 years of the State of Israel’s existence, I am happy that our important ally, the United States, recognizes Jerusalem as our capital and is gearing up to move the embassy.”

A giant US flag screened alongside Israel’s national flag on the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem, December 6, 2017. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Lapid on Twitter wrote: “Thank you President Trump. Jerusalem always was and will remain our capital. We look forward to welcoming the US Embassy to Jerusalem.”

Not all Israeli lawmakers, however, were pleased.

“Trump’s statement on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will cost us dearly, and his diplomatic [peace] plan that he will present will hurt us,” said Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush from the coalition United Torah Judaism party, according to Army Radio.

“No doubt that Trump made history with his statement regarding Jerusalem, yet it’s important to keep in mind that the many problems of Jerusalem will not go away and if remain unsolved — will continue to explode time after time,” chimed in Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova on Twitter.

AP contributed to this report.

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