Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted yesterday in an interview with PBS that he could be open to negotiating the status of Jerusalem, a perpetual sticking point in the currently stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Palestinians have long claimed East Jerusalem, which is rife with Arab neighborhoods, should be the capitol of their future state. Israeli hard-liners claim the ancient city, which was unified by Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War, will forever be the unified capitol of Israel.
While Netanyahu has flirted with the idea before — particularly in instances such as now when he is putting the onus on Palestinians to come to the table without preconditions — his comments about Jerusalem often reject the possibility of ever dividing the city. Here’s Netanyahu’s exchange on the Charlie Rose’s interview show last night:
NETANYAHU: I want Jerusalem a united city for sure. But that’s the way I go — These are not preconditions for negotiations. They’re positions in the negotiations. The final positions come out after a negotiation. I don’t think it makes sense, and I think it’s just not wise, it’s even silly, to come forward and say well I’ll offer this percent, you know, with a decimal point —
CHARLIE ROSE: Of land.
NETANYAHU: Of land. That’s what the negotiations are for.
Watch the video:
In the speeches he mentions in the clip, Netanyahu indicates that he will not accept a divided Jerusalem in any peace deal. At Bar-Ilan University in June 2009, Netanyahu said in a “permanent agreement,” one of Israel’s “needs” was “Jerusalem remaining the united capital of Israel.” In the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, on May 16, 2011, Netanyahu said he was guided by the “principle” of a united Jerusalem. And a week later, speaking to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Netanyahu said:
Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. I know that this is a difficult issue for Palestinians. But I believe with creativity and goodwill a solution can be found.
Netanyahu’s position, though, has wavered tremendously between the above softer-hard-line and the hard-hard-line. The closest he’s come to staking out the same position he did last night was in July 2010 before audiences of an American-Jewish organization conference and Fox News, saying that Jerusalem is “one of the issues that will have to be negotiated.”
But in both January and December of that year — six months on either side of his July comments — Netanyahu and his office explicitly rejected the notion of ever dividing Jerusalem. Two months before his July American appearences, Netanyahu appeared at a holiday called Jerusalem Day, celebrating the 1967 unification of the city. He told Israeli crowds that Israel “will never again allow Jerusalem to become a separated, bleak and divided city.”
On Jerusalem Day this year, Netanyahu again took the harder line, telling crowds that “nothing more holy to us than Jerusalem” and its “unity,” and pledging again that “Jerusalem will never be divided.”
With all the flip-flopping, assessing exactly where Netanyahu stands on Jerusalem — whether it will “never” be divided or is part of the final status issues for negotiations — remains to be seen. But his latest comments, to an American television audience, seem to indicate that he’s open to giving a future Palestinian state sovereignty over Arab parts of East Jerusalem. If that’s the case, his position matches up exactly with President Obama, raising questions about the attacks on the President by Netanyahu’s closest stateside allies for being a “divide(r)” of Jerusalem.