Speaking before the Knesset, he said, "These sites are part of our heritage. How is it possible to leave them out? So I thought they must be included. I have no intention of changing existing prayer arrangements."
He went on to say that the government has already renovated the area used for Muslim prayer at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and that now the same should be done for the Jewish side.
"This decision creates a solid base for our national existence," he claimed. "We are not here by chance. We are here because we have a deep, basic connection to the land, which has continued for almost 4,000 years. We must enable the younger generation to connect with our heritage in innovative ways. We have created a plan and granted it a budget, and this is something that should cross party lines."
PM: We need two to tango
Despite the lack of progress on the political front, Netanyahu sounded optimistic. "It seems the conditions are ripening for renewed talks between us and the Palestinians," he said. "I think conditions are ripening because of understanding and despite the criticism."
"Fewer and fewer countries are willing to countenance prior conditions and it may be that negotiations will be seen soon," he continued. "In the Middle East, one needs two to tango, or maybe even three. The obstacle is not Israel. And anyone who studies the situation reasonably knows this."
Netanyahu also referred to the Iranian issue. "The international community is moving towards sanctions. I was in Russia with (Yuli-Yoel) Edelstein and met (Russian President Dmitry) Medevdev and (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin, and Russia fully understands the significance of the Iranian nuclear program. (Deputy Foreign Minister Danny) Ayalon's visit with (Bank of Israel Governor Stanley) Fischer to Beijing was important for understanding the Iranian program."
Livni: Be prime minister for once
After the prime minister's speech, Opposition Chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni criticized Netanyahu in a strongly worded speech of her own for his silence in the face of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's verbal attack on law enforcement agencies.
Livni. No holds barred at the Knesset. (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Livni said she had not intended to refer to the issue, but as she returned from a meeting with Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish she overheard the foreign minister at a press conference.
Livni called on the government to back up the police commissioner after he was slammed by Lieberman. "Who is supposed to defend law enforcement agencies and the police? You are…" she said to the prime minister during the Knesset discussion under the heading, "Where is the State of Israel going under Netanyahu's rule?"
"You are responsible for holding law enforcement agencies in contempt. Be prime minister for once. Do what is right. Support the people who need it. Denounce those who don't," Livni continued, adding, "It's all in your own back yard."
Livni also spoke of violence against the justice system. "I always thought violence should be dealt with, and it's not enough to shake your head in disapproval when shoes are thrown," she said, referring to the case in which a shoe was thrown at a high court justice.
"Some of your coalition partners are creating their own courts," she continued. "I have my own disagreement with the courts about what is judiciable, but I will do everything I can to guard this institution from the processes taking place in Israeli society."
Israel 'ostracized' since Netanyahu took over
Livni also slammed Netanyahu's performance as prime minister, saying "Just because you are in the prime minister's chair doesn't mean you are a leader."
"Today there are no negotiations, and I hope they will start soon. There is no economic policy. And the two-year budget – the last time a two-year budget was proposed, it was because of an economic crisis, and this time? Since you took over the helm, Israel has become an ostracized nation," Livni said
Netanyahu also counter-attacked the opposition. "This discussion is to be welcomed, and I think there is also a place for criticism. I don't have any problem with that, but I do have a problem with abuse and slander. Citizens expect a reasoned discussion, not verbal sparring."