Nir Barkat probably wouldn’t admit to this, but he’s a mayor in transition. On Tuesday, he announced that he’s joining the Likud and setting his sights on a position in national politics. Granted, in the same breath he declared that he would continue serving as mayor until 2018, but what if the national election is moved up to 2017, for example? From now on, Barkat has one foot out the door. He might not admit this, but his priorities have completely changed. And this is a darn shame, because Jerusalem desperately needs an engaged, full-time mayor now more than ever.
Let’s go over a few facts, not rely on impressions and feelings: Jerusalem is deteriorating.
This is happening first and foremost because of the demographics, the social composition of the city and the urban structure. Jerusalem now lags behind 15 other Israeli municipalities.
You need to take a look at and memorize these statistics. According to data that were published this week, poverty rates in 2014 rose to 46.1 percent in the region and 48.6% in Jerusalem.
In east Jerusalem, the situation is even worse. We should be very proud of ourselves (not). We love investing in the eastern part of the city, unless it happens to be in education, infrastructure, housing or garbage collection. The gap is greatest with respect to poverty: Over the last year, the poverty rate in east Jerusalem increased by 5 percentage points. As of today, 79.5% of east Jerusalem residents live below the poverty line.
And among children, the number is even higher: 83.9% of children living in east Jerusalem are poor.
You might retort that in reality they are enjoying a high standard of living since they benefit from National Insurance Institute payments and from Employment Bureau services.
Well, I’m sorry to rain on your party, but according to Israel Social TV, it turns out that Arabs living in east Jerusalem have a hard time navigating the Israeli government’s bureaucratic labyrinth and as a result many of them do not receive NII payments or other benefits they deserve.
Despite the fact that 13% of the country’s poor people live in east Jerusalem, only 2.7% of NII income support payments reach families in east Jerusalem.
Sixty-nine percent of income support claims made by residents of east Jerusalem are denied, the vast majority on the grounds of failure to submit the correct documents or failure to show up as required to the government employment office.
Jerusalem is at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
If you’re curious what a binational Israel might look like, just come to Jerusalem and see for yourself. There will be two peoples: Jewish and Arab.
At first, the Jewish one will be slightly larger in number than the Arab one. This small numerical advantage will keep the Jewish public happy for a number of years, but then the demographics will begin changing. At some point, we will turn into a Jewish minority ruling an Arab majority.
And then we will face the real dilemma: Do we offer true civil and political rights to the Arabs with whom we share this space between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River? Voting rights, as we all know, were denied to residents of east Jerusalem.
Can we deny voting rights to Arabs living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza as well? The third intifada is knocking loudly on our door. The terrorism we are experiencing is more violent than the first intifada, but less violent than the second one. Even so, 23 Jews have been killed in terrorist attacks in the last few months, many more have been injured and treated for shock, and countless Israelis have been too scared to leave their homes. This is the goal of terrorism. It is no surprise, of course, that most of the attacks have taken place in and around Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the gateway to Israel. Some 350,000 Palestinian live here and thousands make their way across the city daily.
It should be of no surprise then that terrorists are carrying out so many attacks in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is at the heart of the conflict, the city that is holy to three religions, with the Temple Mount the focus of religious extremists on both sides who irresponsibly fan the flames of fire.
This is how it will be in a binational Israel – constant friction between the two communities everywhere they come into contact, and slowly spilling over into each other’s neighborhoods.
There is no way we can completely isolate the Palestinians, build hermetically sealed neighborhoods, make sure they don’t drive on streets used by Jews, or have any connection with our schools. This is called apartheid, and under no circumstances do we want to live in an apartheid state. We want our home to be Jewish, democratic, Zionist, peace loving, with a Jewish majority and an Arab minority that enjoys full civil rights as citizens in any democracy would want.
I am against dividing Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is my city and the city of my parents. My father, Eliezer z”l, was honored as a Distinguished Citizen of Jerusalem (Yakir Yerushalayim).
I believe that there is so much we still need to build in Jerusalem, to strengthen the city economically and socially.
But the current city leadership does not understand the severity of the crisis we’re experiencing.
Nor does the mayor realize that what happens in Jerusalem affects the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Therefore, we must grit our teeth and suffer the pain that’s involved in making difficult decisions, such as deciding whether or not we should disengage from neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and turn control over these areas to the Palestinian Authority. No, this does not constitute a division of the city. Rather, it is a wise move that will save us from the demographic imbalance in Jerusalem. Such a move would still allow Israel control over and full access to religious sites that are holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
The government must make Jerusalem one of its top priorities, ahead of the North or the South. We’re always searching for the periphery, but it is here right under our noses. There is a geographic periphery, and then there is the obvious and painful social periphery.
Mayor Nir Barkat has worked very hard to make improvements, and he has accomplished many great things during his tenure. But will others be able to cope better with the fear and radicalization that are taking place in the city? Barkat’s campaign posters against Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon that were pasted around the city called on the latter not to forsake Jerusalem.
Now it’s time for Kahlon to turn the tables and ask the very same thing of Barkat.
The writer is a member of Knesset (Zionist Union), chairman of the Knesset Lobby for Jerusalem, member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, and a doctor of political science and communications.Translated by Hannah Hochner.