Speaking at a meeting with American Jewish leaders in New York early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he refused to compromise on Jerusalem even if this will lead to a peace deal with the Palestinians.
"I will never negotiate on Jerusalem," Sharon said in his speech.
Earlier, Sharon was interrupted by anti-pullout protesters as he gave a speech defending his intended withdrawal from Gaza.
Several protesters in the audience stood up as he spoke at Baruch College in Manhattan; one exposed a T-shirt with the Gush Katif slogan and shouted, "Jews don’t expel Jews!"
These comments and others, although were booed by some of the audience, grew louder forcing Sharon to pause. Most of the demonstrators were wearing orange T-shirts, the color adopted by the anti-pullout movement in Israel. Most of the pullout foes were escorted out of the auditorium by the police.
Sharon called the plan to withdraw from Gaza "the most difficult decision" he has ever made and warned that "the coming period will be one of the most difficult the State of Israel has known since its establishment."
These comments were received with a very warm applause by over a thousand of Jewish leaders and activists.
He insisted that the plan was necessary to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority and "make certain that important parts of the cradle of the Jewish people would remain part of Israel forever."
Talking of the "Cradle of Jewish People," Sharon was referring to the settlement blocks built on the West Bank land that Israel is planning to annex them to Israel under any final status agreement with an American blessing.
Anti-pullout demonstration continued outside of Baruch Collage. Several hundred more protestors, many of them ultra-orthodox Jews demonstrated.
This is one of the very unusual moments that Jewish supporters of Israel demonstrate against a right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, said a member of the Jewish community in New York.
In fact, Sharon’s visit to the United States, which was intended to bolster ties with American Jews and recruiting their support for the disengagement, ended up making more visible the internal rifts, and the antipathy toward Sharon by the Jewish community.
On the other hand, MK Binyamin Elon (National Union) encouraged the demonstrators and urged them not to believe that the disengagement was unstoppable.
Sharon’s speech was focused more on Israel-Diaspora relations rather than on his unilateral disengagement plan.
"The lives of Jews in the Diaspora today are not in danger, but their lives as Jews are," he said, warning that intermarriage and assimilation threaten the future of overseas Jewish communities.
Sharon urged for reinforcing the Jewish-Zionist education around the world and to send their children to visit Israel through programs such as birthright – which runs 10-day trips, and other projects that aim to strengthen the relation between the Jews, especially young ones, around the world with Israel. Visiting Israel, he said, strengthens young Jews’ Jewish identity.
He cited immigration to Israel as one of his government’s key policy goals, saying he wanted to see a million Jews immigrate over the next 15 years.