Netanyahu: Not Jerusalem but Refusal to Recognize Jewish State Delays Peace

While prime minister focuses on political aspects of the capital, President Rivlin calls attention to the state of poverty of its eastern neighborhoods

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, attending the closing Jerusalem Day ceremony at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, May 24, 2017.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state as preventing peace during a Jerusalem Day speech in on Wednesday.

In contrast, President Reuven Rivlin struck a more sober tone, stressing that Israel cannot fully celebrate the city's reunification as long as the Arab neighborhoods remain among the poorest urban areas in Israel.

"We want peace. We extend our hands in peace to our neighbors," Netanyahu said at the closing ceremony at Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill, marking the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, when Israel took control of East Jerusalem and the Old City. "However, Jerusalem isn't what is delaying peace, but rather the consistent refusal to recognize the state of the Jewish people and to end the conflict once and for all."

Netanyahu vowed to keep the holy sites under Israeli control, justifying it by declaring that only Israel can guarantee freedom of worship.

The prime minister expanded on Jerusalem's place in Jewish history. "It has been proved without a doubt that Jerusalem is the main artery of our national consciousness. The root of Zionism is in Zion."

He said he was stressing this point because some people still espouse the idea of turning the hands of time back. "The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will always remain under Israeli sovereignty," he said.

Netanyahu asked rhetorically, "Has Jerusalem ever been the capital of another people? Has anyone else besides us looked after the freedom of worship of believers of all faiths?" He answered himself, "Exactly the opposite – freedom of worship by all faiths is only guaranteed under Israeli sovereignty."

President Reuven Rivlin speaking at the closing Jerusalem Day ceremony on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, May 24, 2017.
Emil Salman

Earlier, Netanyahu stated: "Our victory is the absolute justice of our struggle. Jerusalem was divide din two. I still remember it as a child. Jerusalem was almost completely sealed off for 19 years, a dead-end city. Added to that was the malicious intent to strangle our entire country."

'We cannot sing songs of praise'

Rivlin reflected in his speech on Ammunition Hill on the sacrifices made for its reunification and the state of its Arab residents.

Rivlin noted the heavy price Israel paid in the fighting for Jerusalem. "It is not for nothing that this hill symbolized and continues to symbolize the entire Six-Day War," he said of Ammunition Hill, the site of the bloodiest battle for the city in 1967. He said it symbolizes the dedication, heroism, determination and sacrifice of Israel's soldiers.

He said he remembered accompanying the biweekly convoys to Mount Scopus, passing above Ammunition Hill, which was a police school at the time. "It was a fortified target that controlled the area," he recalled. "It was a strategic target that always worried us. In all the scenarios, the question of this hill repeatedly came up. We didn't know what price it would cost us, but when the time came these were the fighters, as the chief of staff during the Six-Day War, Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory, said, "who saw the glory of the victory and its price."

Recalling that Jerusalem is a city of many nationalities and religions, he said Jerusalem can and should be a city in which different cultures coexist as the leading lights of Zionist had envisioned.

He also stressed the need to revitalize East Jerusalem as a precondition for realizing the city's potential as a mixture of cultures. "We cannot sing songs of praise for Reunited Jerusalem when East Jerusalem, in which 40 percent of the city's residents live, is the poorest urban area in Israel," he said. "We must not accept the fact that after 50 years of the reunification of Jerusalem, Jerusalem the capital has fallen to the lowest socioeconomic stratum. Jerusalem will never flourish without massive investment in the city's east." While welcoming recent steps to improve the situation in East Jerusalem, he stated that more could and should be done.