- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

JERUSALEM | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Thursday that all of Jerusalem will always remain under Israeli sovereignty, taking a hard line on a key Israeli-Palestinian peace issue just hours after his forces removed an unauthorized settlement outpost in the West Bank.

The twin moves came a day after Mr. Netanyahu returned from talks in Washington, where President Obama backed creation of a Palestinian state and urged an end to Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, setting up a potential confrontation between Israel and the U.S.

Mr. Netanyahu has refused to endorse Palestinian statehood, and his uncompromising statement about Jerusalem focused attention on another issue that could cause friction between Israel and the Obama administration.

The U.S. has long held that the future of Jerusalem must be decided in negotiations, but Mr. Netanyahu offered no flexibility.

“United Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided.”

Mr. Netanyahu was speaking at a ceremony marking 42 years since Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War.

Before the war, Jordan controlled East Jerusalem, while Israel had the western section. A barbed wire barrier and wall separated the two sides. Shortly after the war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, a move that no other country has recognized. Israel did not annex other territories, like the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Previous Israeli governments have indicated willingness to cede Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians in the framework of peace. Mr. Netanyahu, who took office on March 31, has always rejected giving up control of any part of Jerusalem.

Rafik Husseini, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected Mr. Netanyahu’s stand. He said the Palestinians have accepted a two-state solution based on East Jerusalem as the capital of their state.

“Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem is illegal,” he said, adding that an Israeli attempt to keep control of East Jerusalem would be a “major obstacle to peace.”

Disputes over Jerusalem have torpedoed several peacemaking attempts. The main issue is control over a holy site, where the Al Aqsa Mosque compound sits atop the ruins of the biblical Jewish Temples. Also, Israel has built large Jewish neighborhoods around East Jerusalem, and Palestinians consider them illegal settlements.

Palestinians emphasize halting settlement construction as a key to resuming peace talks.

On Thursday morning, Israeli forces moved on a small West Bank settler outpost and tore it down, but critics charged that the gesture was almost meaningless, and settlers quickly began putting the makeshift buildings back up. About 40 people lived in Maoz Esther, on a hilltop northeast of the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

The U.S. has long criticized all settlements as obstacles to peace, since they are built on captured land that the Palestinians claim for a future state. At their White House meeting Monday, Mr. Obama told Mr. Netanyahu that “settlements have to be stopped.”

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