JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed coalition politics for the delay in implementing a deal reached earlier this year to create a designated prayer section for non-Orthodox worshipers at the Western Wall.
“It works in fits and starts, starts and fits,” he said of his government’s ability to reach a consensus on disputed actions, citing as an example a lengthy fight over who should control a vast natural gas field discovered in 2010 in the Mediterranean Sea west of Haifa.
“It is going to take time” to implement the agreement, he told journalists attending a Jewish media conference on Dec. 6. “When I say the Kotel is a wall for all Jewish people I mean it.”
Netanyahu’s remarks came nearly a year after Israel’s Cabinet voted for a compromise to expand the holy site’s non-Orthodox section to the south of the traditional plaza, now under Orthodox control. Haredi Orthodox parties object to key provisions of the compromise, which would still keep the best-known segment of the Jerusalem holy site under Orthodox control.
Netanyahu anticipated the question from an audience that included a number of Jewish media outlets based in the United States, where the compromise is of major significance to Reform and Conservative leaders.
He joked at the beginning of the news conference that he preferred to discuss Israel’s expanding trade and diplomatic cooperation with a range of countries, including China, Japan, India, Russia, Turkey and at least seven nations in West Africa.
He credited the easing of Israel’s historic isolation to what he called “TPP,” which he said stood for terror, technology and Palestinians. Nations under threat of terror are drawn to Israel’s expertise in security and counterintelligence, as well as its outsized cyber-security sector, he said. As for Palestinians, he said few of the emerging partners consider the conflict an obstacle to cooperation. “Most of them don’t raise it; they don’t care,” he said.
Netanyahu also downplayed the significance of reports of an increase in anti-Semitic incidents and rhetoric in the United States.
“Anti-Semitism is a fringe element in the United States,whether on the right or the left,” said Netanyahu. “I don’t think it is something that has taken root in the heart of the American polity.”
That being said, he added, “It should be fought.”