(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
An alliance of Jerusalem Arab organizations on Monday launched an international campaign to create an independent municipality for Arab residents of east Jerusalem.
The announcement was largely seen as a trial balloon for an idea that has been floated in the past.
The campaign was kicked off with a press conference in east Jerusalem and a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. It is being organized by the Jerusalem Civil Society Consortium, which is made up of 58 east Jerusalem organizations.
"We are starting work today toward the establishment of an elected municipality for east Jerusalem residents," said campaign coordinator Abdel Fatah Darwish of the Palestinian Media and Development Institute.
He said the situation in east Jerusalem was "deteriorating," saying 40 percent of the population lived under the poverty line, with an increase in drug addiction and a high proportion of children not in school.
Darwish said the effort, dubbed the "Life for Jerusalem Campaign," was not connected to the Palestinian Authority. He said its timing was not related to the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War.
Referring to remarks Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski made on Jerusalem Day last month about problems caused by the decrease in the proportion of Jews living in the city, Darwish asked, "How can the municipality serve us when it looks on us as a problem?"
Jerusalem has 720,000 residents - 66 percent Jews and 34% Arabs.
Since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the Arab population of Jerusalem has grown by 257% (from 68,000 to 245,000), while the Jewish population has increased by 140% (from 200,000 to 475,000), according to municipal statistics.
Most of Jerusalem's Arabs have permanent residency and Jordanian passports, having turned down full citizenship due to their opposition to Israeli rule over the city.
Jerusalem Arabs pay municipal taxes and receive an array of social services, including health care, unemployment compensation and National Insurance Institute benefits.
They have always boycotted municipal elections and have turned out to vote for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The consortium said its letter to Ban accused the municipality of performing "illegitimate and immoral activities" aimed at altering the demographic status of the city.
The consortium had "no connection" to the Arab residents of east Jerusalem, Lupolianski said Monday. He blasted the initiative to "disengage" from the municipality.
"Tens of thousands of Arabs infiltrate Jerusalem every year," Lupolianski said. "These people suffer from distress due to lack of action by the PA. They wish to become residents of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty thanks to the high-quality conditions and services they receive here.
"Just as the UN has no authority to divide London, Paris or Washington, DC, it has no authority to redivide Jerusalem.
"Most of the residents of eastern Jerusalem work in cooperation with the municipality and community centers, and [have] no desire for this incitement, nor do they wish the city to be divided," Lupolianski said in a statement.
Polls have shown that the vast majority of Jerusalem Arabs would rather live under Israeli sovereignty than under the PA.