Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Congress today that while he is willing to cede symbolically charged Israeli land to the Palestinians, Jerusalem is off the table.
While Netanyahu spoke of the deep resonance of the 4,000 year old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land, he acknowledged that a two state solution would require giving up some land.
I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace, Netanyahu said. In a genuine peace we'll be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland.
But Netanyahu rejected any plan that would partition Jerusalem, stating categorically that Jerusalem must never again be divided. He said Israeli sovereingty over Jerusalem has allowed Christians, Jews and Muslims to practice their respective faiths without fearing persecution, something he said was unprecedented in the holy city's history.
Only a democratic Israel has protected the freedom of worship for all faiths in the city, he said.
Jerusalem contains both the Dome of the Rock, a site revered by Jews and Muslims, and the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque. Steven Spiegel, a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles who specializes in the Middle East, said Netanyahu likely took a deliberate hard line during the speech to shore up support with Congress.
Whether or not he's open to some division, whether or not he's open to two capitols would have to be determined in negotiations,Spiegel said. There certainly doesn't seem to be any wiggle room but you really can't tell.
Those negotiations are unlikely to occur if Hamas demands a seat at the table. Hamas recently reconciled with its former rival Fatah, and Netanyahu has said he will not negotiate with an organization that he called the Palestinian version of Al Qaeda.