A U.S. Congressional delegation in Jerusalem said on Sunday that it was "skeptical" that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government would be able to move the peace process with the Palestinians ahead.
The five-person delegation from the sub-committee on the Middle East was headed by Congressman Gary Ackerman from New York, who is considered one of Israel's greatest friends on Capitol Hill. The delegation met with President Shimon Peres and other senior officials in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority.
The representatives had tough questions for the Israelis on construction in West Bank settlements and protested Israel's intention to continue building to accommodate "natural growth." They also expressed great concern over the siege on Gaza, noting that the civilian population was suffering greatly from a lack of food and medicine.
The U.S. State Department said Sunday that the future status of Jerusalem would be determined through peace negotiations, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's declaration last week that the capital would "never again be partitioned and divided."
"Jerusalem is a final status issue. Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to resolve its status during negotiations. We will support their efforts to reach agreements on all final status issues," a State Department spokesman said when asked to respond to Netanyahu's proclamation that Jerusalem would always remain under Israeli sovereignty.
At a state ceremony marking the annual Jerusalem Day on Thursday, Netanyahu said" "United Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided."
The prime minister said he had made the same declaration during his recent visit to Washington, where he met with United States President Barack Obama over the peace process and Iran's nuclear program.
"Only under Israeli sovereignty will united Jerusalem ensure the freedom of religion and freedom of access for the three religions to the holy places," Netanyahu added.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said later Thursday that Netanyahu's position on Jerusalem was a setback to the goal of a two-state solution, which is strongly supported by the Obama administration.
"Mr. Netanyahu, by saying that, he's saying the state of conflict will be eternal," Erekat said.
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