Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed at a ceremony marking the occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War this week that Jerusalem would “forever” remain Israel’s capital. “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It has always been, will remain so forever and will never be divided,” Netanyahu said before thousands of supporters waving Israeli flags. Hundreds of Palestinians and Israeli left-wing activists held a protest sit-in at the Old City’s Damascus gate, chanting “No to occupation, yes to peace.”
“The ties of the Jewish people and Jerusalem goes back thousands of years… Jerusalem will always remain united under our sovereignty,” Netanyahu told the rally at Ammunition Hill, the scene of pitched fighting between Israeli and Jordanian troops in the June 1967 war. (AFP, May 22)
Speaking days later, Netanyahu promised not to found new settlements in the occupied West Bank— but said he would allow construction in existing settlements. “We do not intend to build any new settlements, but it wouldn’t be fair to ban construction to meet the needs of natural growth or for there to be an outright construction ban,” Netanyahu told his cabinet, according to news reports.
The Israeli leader rejected international calls for an all-out freeze on settlement construction as a gesture to persuade the West Bank’s Palestinian leadership to return to peace negotiations. In his recent White House meeting with Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama called for a settlement freeze. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to resume talks until Israel accepts the two-state peace formula and halts settlements.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements built on land seized by Israel in the 1967 war. The settlements, considered a violation of international law, have been repeatedly rejected by the UN. (Ma’an News Agency, May 24)
Netanyahu on May 24 for the first time since being elected in February referred to a “Palestinian state”—but in the context about expressed reservations about the idea. “Clearly we need to have some reservations about a Palestinian state in a final status agreement,” he reportedly told the cabinet meeting, the first since his first official meeting with Obama. “These things were voiced clearly before the president in Washington. When we reach an agreement on substance, we will reach agreement on terminology.”
It marked the first time that Netanyahu publicly said the words “Palestinian state” since the Feb. 10 election that saw his right-wing Likud come second, returning him to the prime minister’s office on March 31.
He stopped short, however, of explicitly backing the concept of the Palestinian state, a fundamental principle of international peacemaking efforts to which Israel agreed under the 2003 “Road Map” plan. A senior official quoted Netanyahu as telling the ministers that “if we talk about a Palestinian state, we have to first and foremost verify what kind of sovereignty and rights this state will have… We have to make sure that we are not threatened.” (Middle East Online, May 24)