President Reuven Rivlin said on Wednesday that Israel must act immediately to improve the quality of life in the predominantly Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are among the nation’s poorest.
Speaking at the official ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Israel’s reunification of the city in the 1967 Six Day War, the president was critical of the ongoing neglect of parts of the capital and called for urgent measures to develop East Jerusalem.
“We must take urgent care of East Jerusalem,” the president said. “We cannot sing songs of praise for a united Jerusalem while East Jerusalem, the area where 40 percent of its residents live, is the poorest urban area in Israel.”
Rivlin said that sovereignty over the city means taking responsibility for every single resident.
“We cannot accept that on the 50th anniversary of the city’s reunification, the capital of Israel has become one of the lowest socioeconomic areas,” he said.
The president praised the government and particularly Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin for allocating a budget to develop the eastern part of the city.
“These steps are welcome and necessary, but there is still so much to do,” Rivlin said. “We need a plan like the Marshall Plan to keep Jerusalem united,” he said, referring to the American aid initiative to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.
“It is our duty now to act urgently to save and unite Jerusalem in practice. We can do it — Jerusalem deserves it,” he said.
Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke at the ceremony, saying that there can be no peace as long as the Palestinians refuse to end violence.
“Our hand is stretched out for peace,” he said. “But what prevents us now is the refusal to end this conflict. Without Israeli sovereignty what happened in Mosul, Aleppo and Sana’a will happen here,” he said, referring to the cities destroyed during the conflict of the Syrian civil war.
“But it will not happen because we are here,” he said.
Earlier in the day Netanyahu vowed that the Temple Mount and Old City would remain under Israeli rule forever, but he made no mention of the Arab neighborhoods.
“We liberated Jerusalem, we made it one city, imperfect but whole,” Netanyahu told lawmakers in the Knesset.
Before the Jews came to the city, there was “nearly nothing” in it; it was “forsaken and in constant crisis,” the prime minister said. During the 19 years between 1948 and 1967, the city again reached “a low,” he added.
“We will never return to that situation” of the city divided, he pledged. “The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty,” he later added.
After Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, it annexed it and declared Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel. However, the move has not been recognized by the international community.
Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. The future status of Jerusalem is among the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.