Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a speech at the Western Wall, February 28, 2015.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will remain part of Israel forever, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, a day after President Donald Trump left the country without an announcement that he would move the US Embassy to the capital.
Speaking to a Knesset session marking Jerusalem Day and the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city, Netanyahu said he wanted to make one thing clear: “The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty. The correction of a historical injustice that was achieved by the heroism of our fighters 50 years ago will stand forever.”
Even though Trump did not act during his 27 hours in the country to fulfill his campaign pledge and move the embassy, the prime minister let it be known that the embassies of all the countries in the world should be located in the capital.
Netanyahu said that this message has been made clear to all world leaders, and has been repeated continuously to the Americans.
Officials close to Netanyahu, in summing up Trump’s visit, seemed to be compensating for his failure to move the embassy by playing up the symbolism of the US president’s visit to the Western Wall, and the fact that, at least for a short period, Trump put the picture of himself at the Wall as the main photo on his Twitter feed. It has since been replaced by a picture of him in the Vatican.
One official lauded the “powerful symbolism” and the message sent by a sitting US president, wearing a kippa, going to the Western Wall with his family.
But, as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear in a briefing with White House reporters traveling with the president on Wednesday, the visit was not all about symbolism.
Tillerson said there were substantive discussions both with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and that Trump was “very forceful” in encouraging both of them to be serious about the diplomatic process and “recognize they have to compromise, everyone has to compromise.”
According to Tillerson, Trump “put a lot of pressure on them” to return to negotiations and made clear several times that if the Israeli- Palestinian issue is solved, it would have a salutary impact throughout the region.
In an apparent effort to follow up on these issues, Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, is expected to return to Israel on Thursday for discussions on various ideas raised during the presidential visit. Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office were tight-lipped regarding these ideas.
In the meantime, government officials said that contrary to reports, Jerusalem has not been told by Abbas that he is ready to begin negotiations with Netanyahu without preconditions.
“He hasn’t agreed yet to meet,” one official said. “We hope this changes, frankly. If it changes, we will go anytime, anywhere to [hold] direct negotiations.” The official said that he did not know what Abbas told Trump about a possible meeting.
The official also said that Jerusalem had nothing to say about the possibility of a summit in the coming months between Netanyahu, Abbas and Trump.
In a related development, Netanyahu said during a ceremony at Mount Herzl marking Jerusalem Day that Trump promised to maintain Israel’s military edge.
“The US has promised to maintain Israel’s qualitative advantage in the Middle East,” he said. “Three days ago, the US added another $75 million to the aid package for [Israel’s] missile defense program.”
Trump’s promise to preserve Israel’s advantage came amid concerns in Jerusalem about the recently announced $110 billion US-Saudi Arabia arms deal.
Marking the victory in the 1967 Battle of Jerusalem at the capital’s military cemetery, Netanyahu added that while Israel greatly appreciates the US assistance and support, “history has proven that Israel’s security depends on our readiness and our ability to defend ourselves, by ourselves, against any threat.”
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