Is moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem a core issue for Israel, or just a distraction from what’s really important? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) debated that question on the Knesset stage in a special meeting in honor of Jerusalem Day and the 50th anniversary of the city’s reunification on Wednesday.By American law, the embassy must be moved to Jerusalem, but since the law was passed in 1995, every US president has signed a waiver every six months keeping it in Tel Aviv. The deadline for US President Donald Trump to sign the waiver is June 1.Both leaders gave a speech, and when Herzog discussed the high poverty rate in Jerusalem, he commented that “with all due respect, an American embassy is not the main thing that the city is missing.”After Herzog’s speech, Netanyahu returned to the stage, saying: “It’s not a trivial matter, the embassy. We believe that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel where all embassies must be located, and the situation that exists today is absurd.”Netanyahu’s retort echoed earlier remarks in his speech, in which he said: “Here’s a paradox: The more we succeed in strengthening and developing it to preserve its Jewish character, as a place of freedom of religion and a symbol of Zionist action, the denial and lies about the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem have increased.“I told Trump that his visit to the Kotel destroyed UNESCO’s claims [denying the Jewish connection to the Old City],” he added. “The eternal wall and the [Temple] Mount behind it are our identity card that show what was here and what brought us back to our homeland... It’s a struggle. We are fighting it, it’ll take a little or a long time, but there’s no doubt that the absurdity will come to an end, because the truth is stronger than any lie.”Herzog's response to Netanyahu’s argument about the embassy was that it is far from the most important issue plaguing Jerusalem. Rather, the demographic problem is.The opposition leader paraphrased former prime minister Levi Eshkol in recently declassified transcripts of cabinet meetings from the Six Day War, in which he said that Israel won, but doesn’t know what to do with the two million Arabs now under its control.
“To protect Jerusalem, we don’t need big words, we need to look at reality,” Herzog stated.Other than the embassy debate, Herzog’s speech courted controversy, in that he called to divide Jerusalem on the day meant to celebrate its reunification.“Today, Jerusalem is only united on paper,” he said. “In reality, the eastern neighborhoods are forbidden to Jews.Sometimes they’re also forbidden to law enforcement, and they are excellent exporters of terrorists. Is that the united city we dreamed of?” Herzog said that, in order to keep Jerusalem united with a Jewish majority, “we must separate from the Palestinians with a diplomatic agreement as much as possible and as quickly as possible. We must separate the Palestinian villages from Jerusalem.”Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein focused his address on Jerusalem remaining forever united, saying it is an “unequivocal truth...all of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, just like the Galilee and Negev, the Shfela and the Golan, will stay under Israeli sovereignty forever, and will continue to flourish and develop more and more with God’s help, despite all the hardships and all the challenges.”
Trump administration assessing whether to move US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, says Mike Pence on Feb. 25, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)