Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Thursday that all of Jerusalem would always remain under Israeli sovereignty, in comments likely to spark consternation among Palestinians who hope to make the city the capital of a future state.
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"Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, a city reunified so as never again to be divided," Netanyahu said at a ceremony to mark Jerusalem Day in the city's Mercaz Harav yeshiva. "Our people's unparalleled affinity to Jerusalem has spanned thousands of years, and is at the basis of our national renaissance. It has united our people, secular and religious people alike."
The Mercaz Harav rabbinic college is the most prominent yeshiva in the religious Zionist world. It was central in shaping the evolution of religious Zionism. In March last year, a Palestinian gunman gained entrance to the yeshiva and killed eight students.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also spoke at the ceremony at Mercaz Harav. He said that Israeli sovereignty of Jerusalem is not negotiable.
"The world must recognize our sovereignty, as well as the primacy of the Jewish people in the holy sites, as our inalienable right," Rivlin said.
Jerusalem Day celebrates the conquest of the city during the 1967 Six Day War, before which Jordan controlled east Jerusalem, while Israel had the western section. Shortly after the war, Israel annexed east Jerusalem.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu said similar things at a state ceremony to mark the day.
"United Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu 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.
The ceremony took place at Ammunition Hill in east Jerusalem, site of one of the bloodiest battles in the city in the 1967 war, situated now in a Jewish neighborhood.
Palestinians: Netanyahu's comments invite 'eternal' conflict
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.
Rafik Husseini, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, issued a similar rejection of Netanyahu's stand. He said the Palestinians have accepted a two-state solution based on east Jerusalem as the capital of their state.
"Israeli occupation of east Jerusalem is illegal," he told The Associated Press, adding that an Israeli attempt to keep control of east Jerusalem would be a major obstacle to peace.
In his speech, Netanyahu echoed remarks made by President Shimon Peres, who said earlier at the ceremony that, "Israel will never have another capital other than Jerusalem, and Jerusalem will never be the capital of another people."
Peres stressed that Jerusalem was and remained Israel's capital, and spoke of the days before the Six Day war when Jews had limited access to the Old City.
"When Jerusalem was in non-Jewish hands, the Jews weren't allowed to pray at the holy sites; but under Jewish control, it is open to all faiths, and all prayers," he said.