Benjamin Netanyahu: Jerusalem will remain united city

Story highlights

  • Benjamin Netanyahu promised Jerusalem would stay a united city under Israeli authority
  • Netanyahu's remarks were made on Jerusalem Day, a controversial holiday in the city
  • Jews and Palestinians mark this Jerusalem Day with demonstrations and clashes

Jerusalem (CNN)In his first speech since swearing in a new government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that Jerusalem would stay a united city under Israeli authority. His statements come on Jerusalem Day, a controversial holiday marked by demonstrations and clashes around the Old City.

"Forty-eight years ago, the division of Jerusalem was ended and we returned to be united," said Netanyahu, referring to the Six-Day War of 1967 that brought all of Jerusalem under Israel's control. "Its division led to dishevelment. Its unification led to its growth. Jerusalem will not return to be a wounded city. We will keep Jerusalem united under Israeli authority."

    A contentious holiday

    Israelis and Palestinians view Jerusalem Day very differently. For Israelis, the holiday marks the unification of Jerusalem, while Palestinians see it as the Israeli takeover of East Jerusalem. Many see the division of Jerusalem as central to a two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
    But Netanyahu, who said before the March 17 elections that there would be no Palestinian state under his premiership before walking back those comments, said Jerusalem will stay one city. He said it has always been the capital of the Jewish people.
    "This is our home, and we will remain here. At the same time, we will make sure that Jerusalem is an open city. Only under the governance of Israel has the right to worship for all religions been kept. The believers can pray at the places they want, not because we are ruling the city, but because we are here," Netanyahu said in a ceremony at Ammunition Hill, the site of a fierce battle during the Six-Day War. From 1948 to 1967, Jews could not access the Western Wall, considered the holiest site in the world for Jews.

    Clashes mark Jerusalem day

    In the hours before Netanyahu's speech, raucous demonstrations and clashes marked Jerusalem Day, as thousands of nationalist Jews marched through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City waving Israeli flags. Nearby, Palestinian protestors waved Palestinian flags as hundreds of police officers tried to maintain order during the flag parade. Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says four police officers were slightly injured and six Palestinians were arrested for throwing stones and attacking police.
    In recent years, the nationalist flag parade has been marred by racist slogans and "Death to Arabs" chants. This year, the Supreme Court allowed the parade to march through the Muslim Quarter, but insisted that police arrest anyone who incites racism or violence against Arabs.

    Netanyahu criticizes Iran nuclear deal

    In recent months, many of Netanyahu's speeches have focused on the threat of a nuclear Iran. Although that was not the primary intent of the Jerusalem Day speech, Netanyahu did mention Iran once, saying it is not too late to back out of a bad nuclear deal.
    "Last night, after the strong action of the United States against the terror of ISIS, the leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, attacked the U.S.," said Netanyahu, adding that Khamenei called the United States an "initiator and supporter of terror."
    "These things were said when Iran never had a nuclear weapon, and it is still not too late to go back on the program to give Iran a package that will pave the way to atomic weapons," he continued. "We are against the package, and we are not the only ones."