Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday attacked his political rivals Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni over their positions on Jerusalem, asking how they could declare that the Western Wall would always remain in Israeli hands when they were willing to let the Palestinians take Jerusalem as their capital.
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The prime minister, who spoke at the Adult Bible Quiz in Jerusalem, was referring to the Labor and Hatnuah leaders' message delivered earlier this week at a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the Western Wall.
"The Western Wall will remain our hands, all of Jerusalem will remain in our hands, forever united under Israeli sovereignty," Netanyahu said. "This is what I heard from people who are prepared to give the Palestinians a capital in Jerusalem. I heard someone, and another someone, say that the Western Wall would remain in our hands? How will the Western Wall remain in our hands? As an enclave in Palestinian territory? And how exactly will we get there? On convoys? By helicopter? APCs? We did not return to the Western Wall after 2,000 years to have to get there by APC."
Following his speech, Netanyahu's Likud party issued a statement continuing the attack on Herzog and Livni. "We call on Bougie [Herzog] and Tzipi [Livni] to tell the public what they are really saying: will they agree, within the framework of a political agreement, to the establishment of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem? Are they prepared to give up areas in the east of the city to Palestinian authority? And will they in the future allow the division of Jerusalem. The citizens of Israel deserve to know just how far Tzipi, Bougie and the left are willing to withdraw."
During the candle-lighting ceremony in question, Livni said: "Israeli sovereignty here [...] is the expression of the historic link between a people and its land" Livni said during the ceremony, evoking iconic memories of the IDF soldiers who took control of Jerusalem's Old City during the 1967 war. "This holy place, this historical place, this place to which our deepest recesses are tied, will remain under Israeli sovereignty forever."
"Every time I'm at the Western Wall," said Livni, "I see before my eyes the paratroopers who cried then, during the liberation of Jerusalem, their tears of excitement, of returning home. [...] Joy and excitement covered us all, like a tallit of happiness that enfolded every Jew in Israel and throughout the world."
In response to Netanyahu's remarks on Tuesday, Herzog and Livni issued a statement saying that “Bibi is acting like Bibi – exploiting Jerusalem for cynical purposes. The public has lost faith in Netanyahu, and we will replace him.”
Netanyahu is currently focusing his campaign on the Herzog-Livni duo, for two reasons. First, he wants to portray the election as a contest between two blocs, his own right-leaning one and a leftist one headed by Herzog and Livni, in contrast to their desire to portray themselves as leaders of a broad center-left bloc. Second, by branding them as “leftist,” he hopes to drive centrist voters away from them and toward himself.
As part of this effort, he has made a deal with Naftali Bennett, head of the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party, under which the two have agreed not to attack each other. Instead, Bennett, like Netanyahu, is aiming his arrows at the left.
Netanyahu has also been seeking to belittle Herzog and Livni in recent speeches by not referring to them by name, but only by the male and female versions of the word “someone,” as he did Tuesday.
The visit Herzog and Livni paid to the Western Wall this week was aimed primarily at trying to prevent rightist MKs from appropriating the site for their side of the political map.