(The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, May 17, 2012/Tom Heneghan)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday it would be a “fatal mistake” ever to give up control over Jerusalem’s holy sites. His remarks, in a parliamentary speech, went a little further than Israel’s longtime policy of viewing Jerusalem, a city at the heart of Middle East conflict, as its “indivisible capital”.

Addressing a debate marking 45 years since Israel captured and annexed the city’s eastern sector, in a move never recognised internationally, Netanyahu said: “Whoever proposes we take the heart of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and take it out of our hands, and that this would bring about peace, I say not only is this a mistake but a fatal mistake.”

Netanyahu said that sites holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity enjoyed a “wonder of inter-religious peace that is maintained thanks to Jerusalem’s unity under Israeli sovereignty.”

(Inside Al-Aqsa, the third holiest mosque in Islam, Jerusalem, 17 May 2012/Tom Heneghan)

“The Temple Mount is in our hands and … it shall remain in our hands,” Netanyahu added. The Temple Mount, a site in Jerusalem’s old walled city, is revered by Jews as the place where two biblical temples once stood. The area also houses two of Islam’s holiest shrines, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.