Bethlehem - Ma'an - As Israel marked the 62nd declaration of its statehood Monday evening, officials reiterated their commitment to a "unified Jerusalem," Israeli media reported.
"We will not apologize for building up Jerusalem our capital," said Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin during his Independence Day speech, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
Since the announcement on the eve of US-brokered proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians that further settlement expansion is expected in occupied East Jerusalem, Israel has reiterated its unwavering commitment to construction throughout the city despite international condemnation.
However, Rivlin further told conveners that "[Israel's] fear of the 'other' across the wall, especially in Jerusalem, whether Arab or ultra-Orthodox, goes against the Zionist spirit," Haaretz reported.
"The mentality of concrete and barbed wire; the mentality of enclosure in homogeneous neighborhoods, and the mentality of escaping a dialogue with the 'other' is not only destructive to our social and national foundations ... but also enables the rise of the very voices who today demand the division of Jerusalem," he said.
The PLO maintains that East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967, is the future capital of a Palestinian state.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's Army Radio on Monday that "the world isn't willing to accept, and we won't change that in 2010, the expectation that Israel will rule another people for decades more."
While Israel commemorates fallen soldiers on Memorial Day and statehood, Palestinians will mark the Nakba, or catastrophe - the mass displacement of Palestinians from their homes and lands in 1948 on 15 May.
However, Palestinians living in Israel and Jerusalem will be prohibited from commemorating the Nakba, due to a Knesset law criminalizing the act, penalizing anyone showing signs of mourning on the day.
While Israel declared statehood on 14 May 1948, a day before the expiry of Britain's mandate of Palestine, it follows the Jewish calender, so the date changes yearly. Palestinians will commemorate the Nakba next month. Palestinian right of return
A group of right of return organizations across the world called on Palestinians in the diaspora in Europe and the US to gather in front of Israeli embassies on 15 May to remember "the Palestinian Nakba and those victims who were killed and kicked [out] from Palestine in 1948," a statement read.
The issue of refugees and East Jerusalem remain focal within the peace process, with the PLO demanding the right of return of Palestinians displaced by Israel in 1948, either internally or to refugee camps across the Middle East, and Palestinian sovereignty over land occupied by Israel in 1967. Over 4 million Palestinian refugees
UNWRA, set up in the wake of Israel's statehood to provide for Palestinians displaced by the 1948 conflict, estimates that there are 4.7 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Under UNRWA's operational definition, Palestinian refugees are people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.