Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday it would be a “fatal mistake” ever to give up control over Jerusalem’s holy sites.
His remarks, in a parliamentary speech, went a little further than Israel’s longtime policy of viewing Jerusalem, a city at the heart of Middle East conflict, as its “indivisible capital”.
Addressing a debate marking 45 years since Israel captured and annexed the city’s eastern sector, in a move never recognized internationally, Netanyahu said:
“Whoever proposes we take the heart of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and take it out of our hands, and that this would bring about peace, I say not only is this a mistake but a fatal mistake.”
Netanyahu said that sites holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity enjoyed a “wonder of inter-religious peace that is maintained thanks to Jerusalem’s unity under Israeli sovereignty.”
“The Temple Mount is in our hands and … it shall remain in our hands,” Netanyahu added.
The Temple Mount, a site in Jerusalem’s old walled city, is revered by Jews as the place where two biblical temples once stood. The area also houses two of Islam’s holiest shrines, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of a future state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, territory Israel also captured in a 1967 war.
Western-sponsored negotiations hit deadlock months ago in a dispute over Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.
In a related development, Israel’s parliament passed a law on Monday granting tax incentives to organizations seen as encouraging settlement in Israel and occupied territory, in addition to tax breaks already offered to settlers in the past.