NEW YORK – Even in the days of the 12 Israelite tribes, when the Land of Israel was divided between them, Jerusalem remained united, the center of the world where all Jews could gather, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said on Sunday.

He added that this is also the future of Jerusalem.

“There are people that, God forbid, are pushing [to divide] the city. They could not get it more wrong. The world has to take Jerusalem off the negotiating table forever.”

Barkat touted the myriad of improvements Jerusalem has seen during his tenure: increasing rates of happiness, education, enrollment in the IDF, a growing municipal budget and business district, more international events like the Jerusalem Marathon and the Formula One race, decreasing rates of crime and more pluralism in the city government.

“We must be doing something right,” Barkat said, and “what we’re doing right is we understand the vision of Jerusalem. The planning and the execution is for a united, large city of Jerusalem with lots of hope and lots of future, and I believe we’re heading there. Jerusalem is the center of the world.”

The mayor argued that Israeli-Arabs were better off than many of the Arabs in surrounding Arab states.

“If you tell them we are going to carve their village out of Israel, they would kill to stay in Israel,” Barkat said.

“The more the Arabs cooperate with the Jewish state, the better off they are. The Israeli- Arabs are by far doing the best in the region.”

In contrast, he said, the enemies of Israel, such as Gaza, Syria and Iran, are doing the worst in the region.

“That correlation says something,” he said. “In Jerusalem, the Arab residents understand that really well.

You see growing cooperation [and] growing understanding between the Arab and Israeli residents. The best future is for everyone, not just for us.

The city is thriving, with a clear vision. They’re welcome to join us in that process.”

Extremists in the region, Barkat said, prefer to see the Arab residents of the region remain poor, in order to advance their political agenda.

“They have a problem with the Jerusalem Arabs’ situation becoming better” under Israeli sovereignty, he said.

“It’s easier for them in an unstable and poor economy to develop their goals. But the quality of life of Arab residents is developing and becoming better. Fulfilling this vision helps us unite Jerusalem.”

“Our past is our future,” Barkat said. “Rather than discuss how to take Jerusalem in the wrong direction [by dividing it], invite the world to come and visit, invest, partner, support and I would like to see all of you next year in Jerusalem.

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