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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Thursday said that US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was ill-informed when she criticized the demolition of Arab houses in the east of the city, insisting the practice was about law and order, not politics.
In a visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday, Clinton called Israel's demolition of the illegally built Palestinian homes "unhelpful" and in violation of a US-backed peace plan.
Nir Barkat countered that Jerusalem was a victim of a double standard and a campaign of Palestinian disinformation.
"I totally reject the notion that we are kicking people out of their homes, that is not the case," he said. "If you build illegal houses you pay the consequence ... I expect people to obey the law."
Barkat said he made his position clear to Clinton personally during her visit.
Israel has issued orders for the demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem. Palestinians acknowledge the homes were built illegally but say they cannot receive proper building permits from municipal authorities, and that Israel is using the demolitions as a tool to assert control over the entire city.
Speaking to foreign journalists, Barkat denied the home demolitions were politically motivated, emphasizing that since the beginning of the year the city had demolished 28 illegal homes - 17 in the predominantly Arab eastern sector and 11 in the predominantly Jewish western area.
"In west and east Jerusalem, the planning process and the ability to give licenses needs improvement," he said. "However, it is not an excuse for people to build illegally."
Barkat said he was acting to expedite the licensing procedure and had increased investments in the eastern part of the city as part of his commitment to improve the quality of life there.
Barkat reiterated his opposition to sharing the city with a future Palestinian state and voiced hope of linking Jerusalem to Maaleh Adumim.
Sharing the city "is the wrong solution," he said. "It may look nice on paper but it will not work," he said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Barkat also spoke about his vision of making Jerusalem a top tourist destination comparable with London, Paris and New York. He said one of his main goals was to draw 10 million tourists a year, up from the current average of 2 million.