Jerusalem will never be divided, says Barkat

‘There is not one good example of a split city that works,’ capital’s mayor says in Q & A with ‘Post’ editor-in-chief.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
March 13, 2011 02:36
2 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

Bibi netanyahu. (photo credit: JPost Staff)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat insisted that Jerusalem is not up for negotiation in a future peace process during a conversation with Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz on Saturday night at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.

“In [the peace negotiations] there are a lot of pink lines, but I have one red line: It’s called Jerusalem, don’t negotiate with Jerusalem,” the mayor told the crowd of 500, eliciting cheers.

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Noting that he considers the idea of a divided Jerusalem “dead on arrival,” the mayor added that “There is no good example of a split city that works.”

He called the Friday evening terrorist attack which killed five Israelis in Itamar an example of the importance of sticking to certain “red lines” in negotiations. “This whole brutality reminds us the level of risks we need to take with our neighbors,” he said. “We cannot trust that this will not happen again.”

In a candid conversation that ranged from affordable housing to the light rail, the mayor said he was putting forward a variety of new initiatives to make the city more livable for young families and students.

The mayor’s main focus for affordable housing is to lower apartment prices by bringing more apartments to the market. As population figures have the city growing from 800,000 current residents to one million residents in the next decade, the mayor says he needs an additional 50,000 apartments to accommodate natural growth.

A municipality program aimed at encouraging foreign residents who own apartments in Jerusalem that stand empty most of the year to rent their apartments to students has not proved successful; nor has an initiative to encourage contractors to sell units at market prices.

“We have to remind ourselves that Tel Aviv apartments are not cheaper, but Tel Aviv young people have money to pay,” said Barkat.

In order to increase job opportunities, the mayor said he was working on developing “business clusters” with a special emphasis on health and life sciences, encompassing enterprises such as drug companies and research facilities. He would like the government to help the city rezone the Atarot airport, which for security reasons can no longer function as an airport, into an 800,000-square-meter industrial park with areas for hi-tech office buildings.

The mayor’s confidence in his ability to bring substantial change to Israel’s capital and poorest city was infectious, and the crowd clapped when he confirmed he would be seeking reelection. Calling his first two years as mayor “much better than expected,” Barkat said he felt optimistic about Jerusalem’s future.

“People tell me the city is very complicated and complex to run in comparison [with other cities], but I don’t have other perspectives,” said the life-long Jerusalem resident.

“It is a fascinating city, and challenging.”


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