Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Israeli sovereignty over the Jerusalem’s holy sites is not up for negotiation and said the city will always be Israel’s capital Sunday, hours before US President Donald Trump was set to touch down in the country.
Speaking to a crowd that included new US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Netanyahu told a ceremony marking 50 years since the 1967 Six Day War that Jerusalem was not conquered, but rather liberated, echoing language typically used by the Israeli right.
“50 years ago, we returned to the heart of our capital and our land, 50 years ago, we didn’t conquer we liberated,” he said.
“By bravely fighting and with the pride of our people, once again Jerusalem was joined together, and therefore today, I say in a loud clear voice, Jerusalem always was and always will be the capital of Israel,” he added.
Netanyahu’s comments came days after a rift appeared to form between the US and Israeli alliance, as the Trump administration refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, considered the holiest site where Jews may pray.
“The Temple Mount and Western Wall will always be under Israeli sovereignty,” Netanyahu told the event, which was attended by President Reuven Rivlin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and President of the Supreme Court Miriam Naor.
Trump, who will arrive on Monday and hold meetings with Netanyahu and Rivlin, is slated to visit Jerusalem’s Old City and Western Wall on Tuesday, the first ever visit to the holy site by a sitting US president.
According to accounts, the White House refused to allow Netanyahu or any other Israeli official accompany Trump during the visit, saying that the area did not belong to Israel.
Trump had called Jerusalem Israel’s “eternal capital” and vowed to move the US embassy there while campaigning for president, but has since appeared to retreat from those stances.
“President Trump has not yet made a decision on moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and doesn’t plan on making a decision on this issue until after his visit,” a US official told The Times of Israel last week.
Netanyahu said he was looking forward to the visit of Trump, calling him “a true friend of Israel.” He also called Friedman “the right man for the right place and with the right name, in the city of King David — Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu’s speech kicked off several days of events marking the 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem in 1967.
Thousands of Jerusalemites flooded the streets surrounding the capital’s Old City walls to watch a sound and light show projected onto the 16th century stone walls.
Netanyahu and Rivlin both condemned the United Nations cultural body UNESCO for passing a series of resolutions that diminish or deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and refer to Israel as an occupying power.
“We will continue to build Jerusalem, our capital… our eternal capital forever,” Netanyahu said, rebuffing reports of a de-facto freeze on building in Jewish neighborhoods in the east of the city.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, but the move has not been recognized internationally and most countries refuse to recognize any part of the city as Israel’s capital, saying it is an issue that will need to be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians.
Longtime Jerusalem resident Rivlin also said Israel would not agree to split Jerusalem.
“There are those who would use a Solomon-like solution to Jerusalem,” Rivlin said. He decried any “surgical” attempts to solve the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a division of the city in the style of King Solomon’s feigned judgement to divide in a half a baby contested by two mothers. “But those who would perform surgery to the city.. Jerusalem is foreign to him and he is a foreigner to it,” Rivlin said.
The sound and light show on the Old City’s Ottoman-era walls followed the politicians remarks.
With fireworks and lasers lighting up the night sky, some of Israel’s most well-known performers sang a series of songs for and about Jerusalem.
Singer Shuli Natan sang the song that made her a household name, Naomi Shemer’s 1967 standard, “Jerusalem of Gold.”
Jerusalem Day is marked each year according to the Hebrew calendar date for the reunification — 28th of Iyyar, which this year falls on Wednesday.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.