Barkat: Jerusalem must stay united

City mayor tells NY Jewish leaders that he plans to challenge Obama to invest in east, west Jerusalem.

Barkat speaks to supporters 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Barkat speaks to supporters 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told American Jewish leaders in New York on Wednesday that he believes Jerusalem must remain united for pragmatic reasons as much as for emotional ones. "There is no practical city in the world that was split [and] that works well," Barkat said during a lunch presentation at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He said Jerusalem should be "managed both ideologically and practically as one city" to keep it open to Jews as well as Christian and Muslim pilgrims. The businessman-turned-politician is in the US this week meeting with investors, development experts and fellow leaders, including his role model, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with whom Barkat said he planned to discuss public education initiatives like charter schools. Barkat also said he planned to quiz Bloomberg, who came to office after building his namesake financial-news company, about replicating New York's enormously successful "311" municipal telephone information system in Jerusalem. Barkat, who will head to Boston on Thursday to meet with Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter about creating economic development zones, is also set to meet Friday in Washington with US State Department officials. He said he planned to challenge the Obama administration to invest money in Jerusalem - both east and west - as well as in Gaza. "I expect our American friends and the American administration to be open-minded and share our new vision," Barkat said, adding that he wanted Jerusalem to "not be beggars and schleppers all our lives." One listener challenged Barkat's rosy view of building an integrated Jerusalem from the ground up through municipal initiatives, and suggested that increased development and tourism depend on a final peace deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Peace, it's not a prerequisite," Barkat responded, though he added that "it's a very important goal to achieve." He said he would leave the thorny political questions to the new government, and that he and Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu saw "eye-to-eye" on the question of development in Jerusalem. But he acknowledged he had been surprised by the international response to the issue of relocating Arab residents living in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan and reiterated that he intended to enforce permit violations equally in east and west Jerusalem. "It caught me by surprise," Barkat said. He said he intended to respond by finishing zoning maps in both east and west Jerusalem to codify permit violations, and insisted the enforcement would be even-handed. "Any new building, if it does not have a permit, I will demolish it," he said.