Barkat: ‘Jerusalem is the crown jewel, will always stay united’

“Jerusalem is the crown jewel. It will always stay the united, undivided capital of the Jewish people with respect to all religions,” Mayor Barkat declared, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the city’s unification. 

Fifty years after Israel unified Jerusalem, the city’s mayor says the upcoming anniversary is a time to celebrate, despite the deep rifts and occasional bursts of violence that disrupt daily life in the holy city.

Like the Israeli leaders, Nir Barkat says Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli control, rejects Arab claims they are second-class residents and states that the city’s diverse array of inhabitants are “all my children.”

“Jerusalem is the crown jewel. It will always stay the united, undivided capital of the Jewish people with respect to all religions,” the 57-year-old Barkat told The Associated Press last week at his office, which overlooks the Old City. “The prayer of all Jews, for thousands of years, is to return to the city of God, the holy city of Jerusalem.”

Working for 27 Cents a Year

Barkat presides over perhaps one of the most complicated cities in the world with nearly 900,000 residents comprised of Jews and Arabs, religious and secular.

“I admit we have a lot of catch-up to do,” said Barkat, who became mayor in 2008 after a successful run as high-tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Since retiring from his business career, Barkat has worked for the city for a token salary of one shekel (27 cents) a year.

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“I’m committed and I’m accountable to close gaps for all neighborhoods, Muslim, Christian, Jewish — everyone,” he said.

Israel recaptured the eastern part of Jerusalem, home to key Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, from Jordan occupation in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed the area.

Barkat rejects the notion of splitting the city again and says a majority of the city’s Arab residents would prefer to stay under Israeli rule even if a Palestinian state were to be established. Fact-based polls back this position.

To that end, he says he expects the Trump administration to follow through on its promise to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a scenario encouraged by Israel but bitterly opposed by the Palestinians.

“What I understand is that President (Donald) Trump and his people very, very clearly understand the future of our city as a united city,” he said. “I believe it will happen sooner rather than later.”

Investing in Arab Neighborhoods

Barkat rejects accusations that Jews receive preferential treatment over Arabs in housing permits. He said the Arab-dominated parts of Jerusalem pose particular zoning challenges since a majority of the land there is not properly registered and ownership is often difficult to establish. Regardless, he said that he has consistently increased annual investment in Arab neighborhoods and most of the city’s new schools have been built there.

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“The prioritization system of where we invest is not symmetrical. We invest more where there are gaps,” he said. “The quality of life of the Arab residents of Jerusalem is far superior to anywhere else around us in the Middle East … and they know that very, very well.”

Barkat insists that even with a wave of Palestinian stabbings and other terror attacks over the past year and a half, the city is far safer than other major cities around the world.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff