Barkat seeks support to redesign J'lem borders

J'lem mayor speaks with rabbis from national religious community on initiative that would relinquish parts of city.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
December 22, 2011 20:21
3 minute read.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat spoke with rabbis from the national-religious community this week in an effort to garner support for a land swap that would relinquish parts of the city.

In a speech at a National Defense College alumni event 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 PA’s jurisdiction rather than that of the municipality, which has trouble providing services and accessing those areas due to the security situation.

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Other areas on the Jerusalem side of the fence that belong to the PA, which are nearly equal in area, would be annexed in the land swap.

On Wednesday, Barkat reportedly met with Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of the Ateret Kohanim Yeshiva, and on Thursday with the Or Etzion Yeshiva’s Rabbi Haim Druckman. Druckman expressed support for the proposal, according to Israel Radio.

Approximately 60,000 Jerusalem residents live on the PA side of the barrier in municipal Jerusalem, in five major neighborhoods of Kafr Akab, the Shuafat refugee camp, Semiramis, Zughayer and Atarot.

Additionally, around 20,000 Palestinians live in small pockets of land on the Israeli side of the barrier, in “Area B,” which is under Israeli security and PA civilian control.

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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.

Deputy Mayor David Hadari, who holds the economic portfolio, slammed Barkat’s suggestion.

“I am totally against giving up on any part of Jerusalem; it doesn’t matter what side of the fence that it’s on,” he declared on Thursday. “There are borders in Jerusalem, and we’ll guard these borders with all the power we have.”

He said he wasn’t worried about the capital’s borders changing any time soon, because a two-thirds majority of the Knesset is required to approve any changes to the municipal borders – something the deputy mayor said was unlikely.

“[Barkat] thinks this is the way to strengthen Jerusalem, but I think he’s wrong,” Hadari said.

The 60,000 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 different.

These neighborhoods are under the jurisdiction of the Israel Police, but the police barely enter these neighborhoods due to security concerns.

PA security forces are forbidden to enter the neighborhoods under the Oslo Accords.

Gadi Baltiansky, the directorgeneral of the Geneva Accords headquarters in Tel Aviv, welcomed Barkat’s idea of dividing Jerusalem.

“Even before the election, Nir Barkat understands that when he talks about a ‘united Jerusalem,’ that it actually needs to be divided,” Baltiansky said. But he warned that any decisions would need to be made in cooperation with the residents.

The majority of Jerusalem Arabs on the outside of the barrier want to stay part of Jerusalem, and most Palestinians on the inside want to stay part of the PA. Many residents on the PA side work and send their children to school inside Jerusalem.

“[Barkat’s plan] is not a successful solution,” Baltiansky asserted. “A successful situation is with a separate Palestinian state.”

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