Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Sunday not to divide Jerusalem in his pursuit of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
“The idea of a divided, split, wounded city is one we will never return to,” Netanyahu said as he spoke at a special ceremony at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem to mark the unification of the city 49 years ago, during the Six Day War.
“We will never abandon the Kotel and our ties to the Temple Mount will never be denied,” Netanyahu said.
Later in the evening, at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, he said: “We will not be ousted from our city or our land. I will not oust people from their homes and we will not be ousted from our homes.”
He spoke of the important of Israeli rule to the vision of a heavenly Jerusalem that provides a safe haven for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
“There was no peace [here] for the [three] religions until Jerusalem was under Israeli sovereignty. Someone was always dispossessed. It is only when we watch over the city, under Israeli sovereignty, that there can be freedom for the three religions.”
Netanyahu spoke as the international community was hardening its stance with regard to a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
Over the weekend, the French launched an internationalized peace process to lay the parameters for what a final status agreement might look like.
Separately, Netanyahu has called for a regional peace process based on a revised 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The initial plan spoke of an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines in exchange for normalized relations between Israel and the Arab world.
Netanyahu has said that the best way to achieve peace is through direct talks with the Palestinians.
“Israel wants peace. I want peace. I want to renew the diplomatic process to achieve peace,” Netanyahu said at Ammunition Hill. “But peace, if it’s achieved, will come through direct talks between us and our neighbors, at the end of which they will recognize that Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people.”
That peace can be achieved through direct talks has already been proved by Israel’s peace deals with Egypt and Jordan, Netanyahu said.
He recalled that a diplomatic process began almost immediately after the Six Day War.
Those same entities who wanted to broker a peace deal on Israel’s behalf “had abandoned the Jewish state when it fought for its existence against the Arab armies that surrounded it [in 1967].
“This did not bring peace then, and it will not bring peace today,” he said. “Each international dictate only distances peace,” he emphasized, “and will only strengthen the will of the Palestinians not to hold direct talks.”
The Palestinians insist that Israel must recognize their right to a national homeland, but refuse to accept a Jewish one, Netanyahu explained.
“Those who deny that Israel is the home-land of the Jews, who deny our claims to Jerusalem and turn the Temple Mount into an instrument of incitement and hatred have a long way to go before they are ready for peace,” he said.
He spoke of the wave of Palestinian violence that has claimed 34 lives since September.
“We will continue to fight terrorism and prove that terrorism will not deter us. We are in Jerusalem, not by charity, but by right,” he said.
The prime minister spoke about his memories of Jerusalem before the Six Day War, including the Jordanian snipers atop city walls, areas of no-man’s land and minefields, saying that such a situation would never return.
He described the 1967 conflict as “a war of salvation which removed an existential threat to the state,” and recalled what he described as a “great spirit” which took hold of the nation at the time, as well as the declarations of soldiers written on military vehicles, saying that there would never be another Auschwitz or another Masada.
“I remember the spirit of our fighters then, and it is in the merit of this spirit that our situation changed from one extreme to the other. And it was proved once again that the only guarantee of our existence is our ability to defend ourselves, to guarantee the safety of Israel,” he said.
The prime minister also recalled the soldiers who died in the battle for the capital, saying that Jerusalem Day was dedicated above all else to the fighters who fell in the war to liberate the city.
He also spoke of the newfound freedom to visit the Western Wall, having been limited to merely viewing it from a distance since the establishment of the state.
“I remember when I went to the Western Wall, a day or two after the liberation,” he said, ”and I remember the masses of people, and I touched the stone, and I remember the intense emotions that I felt like everyone else. This feeling was felt by the entire nation, in Israel and in the Diaspora.”
He said that Israel had a right to Jerusalem which is not dependent on international compassion.
Only because of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem did it turn into an open city to all three great monotheistic faiths, something which has not been the situation for generations.
“Israel respects all faiths, defends the holy sites of all faiths, and we are building in Jerusalem for all its residents – Jews and Arabs together – neighborhoods, parks, cultural facilities and libraries.”
President Reuven Rivlin also addressed the audience at the ceremony, saying that the city of Jerusalem reflected Israeli society in general, and declaring that bringing together all sectors of the population was a “national mission.”
The president sounded a note of criticism toward the Israeli education system, which he said failed to bring Jewish and Arab pupils together at any stage, adding that the lack of contact between the two communities had created a situation where Jewish pupils see Jerusalem as only a Jewish city and Arab pupils see it as only Arab.
“We must remember that Jerusalem is a microcosm of Israeli society as a whole, and the task of bringing together all its communities and tribes is a national mission,” said Rivlin.
“If we remember, that we are not doomed to live together, but we are destined to live together, Jerusalem will be not only a city of the past, but also a city of the future,” he said.
In his speech to the Central Rabbi Kook Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Yeshivat Mercaz Harav, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett accused Netanyahu of being “disloyal to the Land of Israel.”
“You cannot be in favor of the Land of Israel in Hebrew and form a Palestinian state in English,” Bennett told the yeshiva students.
“Only when we will be sharp and determined will the world let us rest,” Bennett said.
Sources close to Netanyahu urged Bennett to behave more responsibly and stop attacking the prime minister.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.