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Mayor: Jerusalem Must Remain 'United and Undivided'

12-09-2014
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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israel is under fire from the international community for building in eastern Jerusalem, but the city's mayor says the West has it all wrong.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat says the West doesn't get it.

"I don't think they really know the plan," Barkat told journalists. "There's a conception that we're waking up in the morning and building for Jews and discriminating [against] Arabs, which is exactly, it's untrue."

Barkat says city officials build according to a master plan that's been in effect for nearly 15 years. It aims to add 50,000 apartments to both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

"The second thing is they have a theoretical model, of maybe if you split the city somehow, peace and quiet will come to our region. It doesn't fly," he said.

Jerusalem is the most contested issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel says the united city is its capital forever.

Palestinians want it divided for the capital of a future state.

The White House denied media reports last week that the U.S. is considering economic sanctions against Israel for building in eastern Jerusalem.

But the U.S. said it would continue to criticize those actions because it believes they're "counter-productive."

"They don't serve to facilitate the kind of trust that we believe is necessary for both sides to try to hammer out their differences in a way that is consistent with the national security concerns of the Israeli people and with the broader aspirations of the Palestinian people," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Some say the fuss could have been a U.S. ploy aimed at scaring Israeli voters from choosing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for another term in the upcoming elections.

Barkat toured northern Jerusalem with reporters this week. He said the alternative to building is not building at all.

"God forbid if I would have listened to the international community and stopped building in the city of Jerusalem, meaning stopped building all the schools -- 171 classrooms or the road infrastructure…"

"Or does anybody tell me as mayor of Jerusalem that if somebody wants to build [on] a piece of land, I tell him, 'Wait a minute -- if you're Jewish you're not allowed; if you're Christian you're not allowed. Only if you're Muslim you're allowed,'" Barkat said in the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

The layout of Jerusalem is complex with Jewish and Arab neighborhoods close together throughout the city. 
 
Barkat admitted there are gaps in the quality of life between certain sectors of society. But says he aims to improve the quality of life all over the city.

In the five years he's been mayor, he's added more than 170 new classrooms to the city -- like a new Arab girls' school in Beit Hanina.

"When we build new schools it's not just to build and say we built. It's to build and develop the content for the benefit of the families and the residents," Barkat said.

The mayor refers to all Jerusalem residents as his children regardless of religion. He says co-existence, not division, is the only answer.

"There's only one way to live here in the city of Jerusalem, in a united, undivided way," he said.

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