LONDON – Jerusalem should return to the role it played in history, when it was the center of the world and a major destination for tourists and pilgrims from all religions, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told an audience at the prestigious London think-tank Chatham House on Monday evening.
“I want to return the role Jerusalem played 2,000-3,000 years ago to the front of the table, when it was the center of the world, where modern civilization started, a destination for tourists, for pilgrims from all religions. Jerusalem has that potential today,” he said.
“The challenge we have is to open up Jerusalem for the benefit of the world, open up its economy, to expand freedom of religion,” he said.
Today around 2 million tourists visit the Israeli capital each year. Barkat said he wanted to reach 10 million tourists in the next decade, adding that this would lead to 140,000 new jobs that would benefit all of Jerusalem’s residents.
“When people understand it’s boosting the economy, they play ball,” he said. “Carrots [incentives] and economy is the best way to promote the city of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
“Where there is economic growth, people become calmer,” he went on. “When the economy is poor, people become more radical. So part of the solution and vision I have is to make Jerusalem a better place to live, to visit and to open a business.”
“There is not one instance in history in which a city has split that ever worked,” he said. “Understanding the needs of the different sectors of the city and the role that Jerusalem must play, it has to stay united and we have to focus; rather than the division, we must focus on the whole.”
Barkat declared that “if there is one city in the world that has to work as a whole, it is Jerusalem. If there is one city in the world that making it work better, for the benefit of all its residents, can make an impact on the world, that is the city of Jerusalem.”
Anticipating that the population of Jerusalem would grow to 1 million by 2030, the mayor said he faced severe challenges in the planning process and needed to build 50,000 apartments to meet the demand for housing.
The mayor admitted that there were planning gaps in all parts of the city.
“One of the reasons Jews have migrated from the city is a lack of
affordable housing. In east Jerusalem, some of the neighborhoods were
not planned properly, and there is a big gap in the plan and the
reality which forces us to re-plan some areas for the benefit of Arab
residents,” he explained.
“We understand those gaps, and I’m committed to focusing on closing the
gaps and turning Jerusalem into a place that is better for tourists,
investors and residents,” he said.
Speaking about the peace process, Barkat said that during all previous
negotiations, building in the city continued for the benefit of all
residents, he said.
“Demanding a freeze in the city is an obstacle and undermines peace,” he said.