(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Standing at the site of ancient Jerusalem's most strategically vulnerable point, Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu launched an offensive Tuesday to maintain Jewish control of Jerusalem.
The Tower of David, a citadel built to protect the weakest point in the city's defenses, was the site of countless battles dating from the first century CE to Israel's capture of the Old City in 1967. Citing that history, Netanyahu vowed to fight against any territorial concessions in or around the capital.
"Jerusalem has been the pulsating heart of the Jewish people. Now there are those who come and say, let's divide this heart," Netanyahu said. "The prime minister wants to come and divide this city. If we leave any part of Jerusalem, militant Islam walks in. That is the reality of the Middle East."
In a Knesset speech last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suggested he would be willing to cede outlying Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
While Olmert did not mention any part of the Old City and only distantly referenced the Shuafat refugee camp, the statement set off a storm in the Knesset, with right-wing coalition partners Israel Beiteinu and Shas threatening to leave the government if the issue was even raised during the upcoming peace conference in Annapolis.
The Likud Party took up the mantle of a united Jerusalem, with MK Yisrael Katz collecting signatures from more than half of the Knesset members calling for an undivided Jerusalem. The petition could spell out future problems for Olmert, who has promised to bring any declaration reached at Annapolis to the Knesset for approval.
Netanyahu, who has consistently led the polls as Israel's top choice to replace Olmert, has used Jerusalem as a way to suggest that right-wing parties would be better off leaving the government and joining a new coalition led by the Likud.
"These type of statements should highlight to the right-wing coalition partners how misplaced they are in Olmert's government...with a prime minister that would even go to Annapolis in the current environment," said a high-ranking Likud official. "Olmert is clearly out of touch."
Netanyahu was joined on his tour Tuesday by most of the Likud faction MKs, who supported the opposition leader's firm stand on Jerusalem.
"As mayor of Jerusalem, Olmert did damage to Jerusalem. Now he is seeking to finish the job," said MK Gilad Erdan.
His words were echoed by MK Yuval Steinitz, who added that ceding any land to the Palestinians would create a "serious security risk."
"We have seen what happens when we leave and create a vacuum - extremist Islamic groups move in and take over," said Netanyahu, citing Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
"Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, all of Iran's proxies will come and move in."
Ending his tour at the Mount of Olives, Netanyahu looked out onto the landscape of the Old City of Jerusalem and called it the "most explosive square kilometer in human history."
"This area has been kept safe and calm through Israel's presence," said Netanyahu. "If any part of this were handed over it would create nightmares that we cannot even imagine."
On Wednesday, Netanyahu will mark the 12th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's death alongside dozens of Israel's leading political figures, including Olmert.
During his speech, Netanyahu will draw on Rabin's last speech to the Knesset, when he promised to always keep Jerusalem united, said a Likud Party spokesman.