The 43rd anniversary of Jerusalem Day brought pledges of both construction and demolition yesterday for the city that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said would never again be "disunited."
Despite the renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said yesterday Israel will continue to build in an undivided Jerusalem, and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said Israel will resume demolishing illegal Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem in the coming days.
"We will continue to build and be built in Jerusalem. We will continue to develop, plan, and create in Jerusalem," Netanyahu said at a Jerusalem Day ceremony on Ammunition Hill yesterday. "We cannot develop in a divided city."
"Jerusalem Day marks the day the city began positively developing for all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. We will never again make Jerusalem a divided, disunited, and isolated city," he said. "We will never divide Jerusalem."
Jerusalem Day marks the establishment of Israeli control over East Jerusalem in 1967.
Netanyahu's pledge to renew construction comes after recent tensions with the United States had brought about a de facto construction freeze, with building projects requiring approval from Jerusalem's district planning committee on hold for more than a month.
Construction in East Jerusalem has been a major sticking point since Israel infuriated Washington in March by announcing a major new East Jerusalem housing development during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Netanyahu also spoke at a special Knesset session marking the day, at which he said the government would prioritize Jerusalem over other areas.
"Some people among us lament the day that Jerusalem was liberated and freed from its stranglehold," he said.
Netanyahu said "Jerusalem" and its alternative Hebrew name "Zion" appear 850 times in the Bible.
Heckled by an Arab lawmaker, Netanyahu offered a lesson in comparative religion from the lectern. "Because you asked: Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran."
Responding to Netanyahu's citations, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "I find it very distasteful, this use of religion to incite hatred and fear. East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian town, and East Jerusalem cannot continue to be occupied if there is to be peace."
Also at the Knesset session, Aharonovitch said the police have not been instructed to refrain from razing illegal Arab homes in East Jerusalem and would resume carrying out demolition orders in the next few days.
"As of right now, there is no directive for police not to implement the demolition orders," he said, adding that the police force was prepared to deploy as many police officers in Jerusalem as necessary for the demolitions.
Aharonovitch said the demolitions had been postponed in recent months so as not to impair efforts by U.S. special envoy George Mitchell to get peace talks off the ground.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin told the parliament he lamented the "sectoral" character of Jerusalem Day celebrations, even though it's a national holiday.
"Most of the people dancing in the streets or holding the central events are the kippa-wearing public," he said, referring to the skullcaps worn by Orthodox Jews. "Was that the law's intention? It's hard not to wonder if the small circle of dancers is not evidence of the painful plummet of Jerusalem's shares among the general Israeli public."
Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) criticized "efforts to use Jerusalem to "distinguish between those who love it and those who love it less."
"I have refused to take part in this effort, which harms Jerusalem more than it protects it," she said. "It's important to understand this, especially as proximity talks with the Palestinians are beginning."
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