For the first time since he took office in November 2008, Jerusalem Mayor Nir
Barkat suggested a plan to divide parts of Jerusalem and give them to the
Palestinian Authority in a speech last week.
Barkat suggested that small
parts of municipal Jerusalem that lie on the Palestinian Authority side of the
security barrier should be under the responsibility of the PA rather than the
municipality, which has trouble providing services and accessing those areas due
to the security situation there.
Peres and Barkat ring in the new school year
The comments were made during a speech
at a National Defense College alumni event on Tuesday. It was the first time
that Barkat has publicly proposed any kind of division of the city.
the tumult surrounding “price-tag” attacks from the extremist Right and Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech at the same event regarding the treatment
of those extremists, Barkat’s speech was largely overlooked, despite its
“We must relinquish areas of the municipality that are
located outside of the fence,” Barkat said in his speech last week. “I recommend
keeping the fence the way it is, and relinquishing parts of the municipality
that are on the other side of the fence and annexing the areas confined on the
Israeli side of the fence that are not under the responsibility of the
The security barrier around Jerusalem is mostly finished,
except for the area around Ma’aleh Adumim and other, smaller, areas. The path of
the barrier does not follow the municipal boundaries of
Approximately 60,000 Jerusalem residents live on the PA side
of the barrier in municipal Jerusalem, in five major neighborhoods of Kafr Aqab,
the Shuafat refugee camp, Semiramis, Zughayer and Atarot.
around 20,000 Palestinians live in small pockets of land on the Israeli side of
the barrier in land in “Area B,” under Israeli security and PA civilian
The idea is to annex the Area B parts, and give up the parts of
Jerusalem outside the barrier. According to a municipal source familiar with the
project, the exchange would result in a very small territorial gain for
Jerusalem, with a loss of approximately 40,000 Arab residents.
“This is a
vision for a defensible and sovereign border,” said the source, who explained
that the mayor recognized the difficulty in providing services to those areas
and wanted to manage the city “as efficiently as possible.”
“It is a very
serious strategic challenge the mayor has been thinking about and learning
about,” said the source. “It is a net gain, we are not dividing the city, we are
changing parts of the border,” he added.
However, it is the first time
the mayor, who has frequently vowed that Jerusalem will never be divided, has
modified that position. The mayor has not formally presented the plan to the
Defense Ministry or the prime minister or any other authority.
Arabs who live in Jerusalem neighborhoods on the eastern side of the security
barrier are supposed to receive the same services – including trash, sewage, and
water – as the rest of the city, though the reality is very
These neighborhoods are under the responsibility of the
Israeli police, but the police barely enter these neighborhoods due to security
concerns. PA security forces are forbidden from entering the neighborhoods under
the Oslo Accords.
The PA is also forbidden from funding any projects,
including schools or road paving. The resulting situation is a lawless
no-man’s-land strewn with trash, and severely lacking in city
Municipal employees who want to enter the area, to collect
trash, install sewage or water pipes, or check for illegal construction, must be
accompanied by police. In most cases, the police must be accompanied by
Consequently, municipal officials rarely step foot in these
areas. Most of the services have been contracted out to private companies. But
since the municipality has no oversight or way to confirm that the contracts are
being fulfilled, trash often sits in overflowing dumpsters for weeks, and roads
are rarely fixed or paved.
Barkat isn’t the first to put forward the idea
of a Jerusalem land exchange. Former mayor Ehud Olmert had floated the idea
during discussions about the barrier’s route. And in August of last year, City
Councilor Yakir Segev of Barkat’s Jerusalem Will Succeed Party – who at the time
held the portfolio for east Jerusalem – made a similar suggestion.
neighborhoods are located outside of the area of authority of the State of
Israel, and obviously the municipality as well,” Segev told reporters after a
conference about Jerusalem’s municipal responsibilities in east Jerusalem in
August 2010. “For all intents and purposes, it’s Ramallah. Except for the crazy
rightists, I don’t know anyone who is really trying to implement Israeli
sovereignty in these areas.”
But the mayor’s vision doesn’t take into
account the wishes of the residents. The majority of Jerusalem Arabs on the
outside want to stay part of Jerusalem, and most Palestinians on the inside of
the fence want to stay part of the PA.
Many Jerusalem residents on the
eastern side of the fence work and send their children to school inside
Jerusalem. Their doctors are in Jerusalem, and they have Israeli
The Association for Rights in Israel called on Barkat to
clarify his remarks from last week, and accused him of trying to shirk his
duties to residents in these neighborhoods.
City Councilor Meir Margalit
(Meretz), who now holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, welcomed the mayor taking
a public stance toward changing the border as a significant ideological
“I’m happy Barkat understands that he needs to divide the city,”
Margalit told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. “I would rather it be divided in a
different place, but it changes the argument [about dividing the city] from
‘yes’ or ‘no,’ to ‘how much.’
“But the moment you start dividing, you don’t know
where you’ll end, and the dynamic of returning land [to the PA] is a good
thing,” he said.
Margalit said that the amount of land that would change
hands was “not meaningful or serious.”
“It has no demographic meaning,
it’s a cosmetic issue,” he said.
However, any change in Jerusalem’s
borders would produce a mass immigration of Israeli residents living east of the
fence back into Jerusalem, in order to keep their residency and rights, he said.