The government's policies led the world to see Jerusalem's eastern neighborhoods as equivalent to isolated settlements, Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) said in a fiery Jerusalem Day speech in the Knesset Wednesday.
"If the Jewish People have a heart, then it is Jerusalem," Herzog began. "It is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel...the spiritual center of the three monotheistic religions." However, Herzog criticized leaders for focusing on that spirituality, talking about the eternal Jerusalem and ignoring current issues.
"Out of honest love and concern for Jerusalem and its unity, I am not denying [the problems]. I propose we talk about them," he stated. "Over the years, the city grew to the west and the east. Beautiful neighborhoods were established. I personally authorized, as Housing and Construction Minister, building in Jerusalem and no one raised an eyebrow.
"Today, unfortunately, that is not the case. We are at a point in which the world considers Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem equivalent to the newest settlements. Unfortunately, today, the fate of Ramot...is the fate of Yizhar," Herzog added.
According to the opposition leader, the world's view of Jerusalem's eastern neighborhoods is "the result of scandalous policies, failed policies of the Israeli government that is burying its head in the sand." Ignoring that could lead to the city being divided, Herzog added.
"A city that should have been a symbol of multiculturalism and inter-religious dialogue, a light upon the nations, turned into a political and diplomatic powder keg," he said.
Herzog posited that Jerusalem could have a Palestinian mayor if the nearly 300,000 Arab residents of the city's eastern neighborhoods decide to exercise their democratic right to vote.
"That is the price of the government closing its eyes and its lack of policy," he added.
Herzog said there will be an agreement with the Palestinians one day and it must keep Jerusalem united, and bring international recognition of it as Israel's capital, but there will be "special arrangements" for security, protection of holy places and freedom of worship for all religions.
MK Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) responded by shouting: "What about Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount?" Last week, Herzog and Labor faction chairman Eitan Cabel demanded MK Hilik Bar (Labor) to remove his signature from a bill allowing Jews to worship at the holy site.
The plenum was relatively full for the special Jerusalem Day meeting, but no Arab MKs were present and only one Meretz legislator was there, while all of Bayit Yehudi's lawmakers attended, reflecting who in the general Israeli public usually marks the holiday.