In response to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s criticism, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat issued an incredulous statement on Thursday questioning the prime minister’s knowledge of facts on the ground in east Jerusalem.
Cameron on Wednesday blasted Israeli settlement construction in east Jerusalem as "genuinely shocking" and called for the reversal of further building plans, according to British media.
While Cameron underlined that he was a staunch ally of Israel's, he noted that the UK does not support what he called "illegal settlements."
"I am well known for being a strong friend of Israel, but I have to say the first time I visited Jerusalem and had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what has happened with the effective encirclement of east Jerusalem, occupied east Jerusalem, it is genuinely shocking," the UK's Independent quoted him as saying to parliament members in the House of Commons.
“Britain is a good and important friend of Israel and Jerusalem, but Prime Minister Cameron’s statement was incorrect, based on a lack of awareness of the advancements we are making in the city,” said Barkat.
“What construction is he ‘shocked’ by in east Jerusalem? By the newest, most advanced schools we are building to educate the youth? By the new roads we are paving for the residents? By the childcare and community centers we are establishing for the benefit of the families?”
Moreover, Barkat took the Palestinian Authority and surrounding Muslim countries to task for not meaningfully aiding their own people, while the Israeli government has provided a far higher standard of living for Arab residents.
“And I ask: What has the Palestinian Authority done to invest in these areas in the West Bank and Gaza?” he said.
“What have our neighbors – in Syria, in Iraq – done for their residents? The quality of life for east Jerusalem residents is constantly progressing and is far superior to the quality of life for residents in any of our neighboring countries.”
The mayor went on to ask Cameron to support the current united model of Jerusalem, which he claimed the majority of Arab residents of the city have repeatedly indicated is their preference in the “most recent independent, international surveys.”
He added that there is no distinction between Jerusalem’s democratic model of government and London’s, and to assume otherwise is “preposterous.”
“Just as in London, Jerusalemites are free to choose to live wherever they wish; just as in London, any form of discrimination based on religion, race or sex is prohibited by law,” Barkat said.
“As would be the case in London, the idea that a resident would be denied the right to live in a certain neighborhood based on their religion is preposterous.”
Taking a more conciliatory tone, Barkat concluded by inviting Cameron to visit the capital to judge the situation with his own eyes.
“I personally invite Prime Minister Cameron, a true friend of Israel, to visit and see for himself our commitment to our Arab residents in east Jerusalem and the tremendous advancement we have made in bridging gaps across the city,” he said.
“I invite Prime Minister Cameron to work with us to advance the development of the city of Jerusalem, rather than work to build walls and sharpen divisions in the heart of Jerusalem.”