JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is standing by the government's decision to include the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb in Jewish Heritage Sites to be refurbished.
"The Cave of the Patriarchs is one of the first sites of the Jewish people's heritage. The Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb have been part of our heritage for 4,000 years. We must allow the younger generation to connect to that heritage," Netanyahu said during an address at the Knesset (parliament).
The prime minister also pointed out that the Muslim side of the Cave of the Patriarchs had been refurbished and the Jewish side deserved equal attention.
The entire Arab world and much of the Western world, including the Obama administration, criticized Israel for including these two sites because of their location in or near cities under PA control.
The Cave of the Patriarchs (Machpela in Hebrew) is located in Hevron and Rachel's Tomb (Kever Rakhel) is just outside Bethlehem.
Netanyahu's address came after 40 members of the opposition - the Kadima party, the ultra-left-wing Meretz party and the three Arab parties - signed a petition demanding that the prime minister speak on a topic they entitled, "The State of Israel under Netanyahu's leadership - to where?"
Opposition leader and Kadima party chairwoman Tzipi Livni was highly critical of the prime minister and his administration.
Livni told reporters that Netanyahu had used political trickery and manipulation to become prime minister. She also blasted Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for his remarks earlier in the day about police leaking information to the press concerning an investigation against him.
Likud issued a prompt response to her criticism.
"We are sorry that Tzipi Livni does not act with the same responsibility as Netanyahu did when he was the opposition chairman, defending Israel against international attackers, without political considerations."
The Jerusalem Post contributed to this report.