(photo credit: Yossi Zamir)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will not give in to requests for concessions in Jerusalem from US President Barack Obama and Palestinian leaders, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin declared firmly in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in his office on Wednesday.
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Rivlin, a proud Jerusalemite whose family has lived in the capital for more than a century, acknowledged that Netanyahu would be under significant pressure in the months ahead, but said he was convinced that the prime minister would be able to say no to the American administration at the moment of truth.
“I faithfully believe that Netanyahu won’t think about dividing Jerusalem,” Rivlin said. “He might agree to autonomy for Muslims at their holy sites, but not to sovereignty. I am following him with my eyes shut.”
Rivlin was referencing the story about former education minister Zalman Aranne, who said he followed prime minister David Ben-Gurion with his eyes shut, but opened them frequently just to double-check the prime minister had his eyes open.
“I am positive that Netanyahu is incapable of dividing Jerusalem because he realizes that it is the heart of the matter, the reason for the state to exist,” Rivlin said.
“A follower of Herzl like Netanyahu won’t concede on Jerusalem. If I hadn’t believed in Netanyahu [on this issue], I would have had to run against him – even though I don’t want to be prime minister.” Asked whether giving the Palestinian Authority control over Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem would constitute dividing the city, Rivlin replied that he and other Israeli leaders had explained to Obama when he visited Israel as a presidential candidate in July 2008 that dividing the capital was impossible because Jewish and Arab neighborhoods were interspersed.
“People tell me that the Jewish people did not pray for 3,000 years to return to Wallaje [an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem],” Rivlin said. “[But] the people who say that don’t know where Wallaje is, and how important it is. And the Jewish people obviously prayed to return to the Temple Mount – so giving it up must be unacceptable.”
Rivlin called the United States “an important friend with whom we have been disagreeing for 43 years.” He added that just as Israel settled 300,000 Jews in Judea and Samaria and called Jerusalem its capital despite American opposition, Israel can tell the American administration no to a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders.
The Knesset speaker would prefer to continue the current situation in which Jews and Arabs live together to the creation of a Palestinian state. He dismissed the demographic arguments the Kadima Party uses to push for territorial compromises and Israel Beiteinu uses to advocate keeping pre-1967 Israeli-Arab towns out of Israel’s final borders.
“Separation, to me, means accepting a permanent state of war,” Rivlin said. “Instituting an artificial solution won’t bring peace.
“If you ask me what is preferable – dividing the land or living together
while dealing with a demographic threat, I think dividing the land is
“If we are destined to live together, we can,” Rivlin
said. “But don’t threaten me with a demographic threat, because if
that’s what matters, David Ben- Gurion would never have declared a
A one-state solution, Rivlin added, was “the lesser of all evils” for “people who are destined, not doomed, to live together.”