Barkat: We'll resist attempts to divide J'lem

In NY, mayor insists that people of all faiths may develop property and live in any part of capital.

Barkat press conference 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Barkat press conference 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Weighing in on the recent dispute regarding construction of a Jewish-owned housing complex at the Shepherd's Hotel in east Jerusalem, Mayor Nir Barkat said Thursday that people of all faiths may develop property and live in any part of the city. During a family trip to New York, Barkat convened a news conference to address the disagreement between US and Israeli officials regarding plans to build 20 apartments in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. "Every resident in Jerusalem is permitted to build anywhere he or she desires, as long as they meet the building codes of the city," Barkat said. "If Jews want to build at Shepherd Hotel," he said, it would be "unacceptable" to stop them. The issue came to the fore earlier this month, following a July 17 meeting between US officials and the Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren. Israeli officials reportedly leaked US displeasure with the plan. Two days later, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu emphatically defended the Jewish settlement plans. "United Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel," he said in a statement following the weekly cabinet meeting. "Our sovereignty over it cannot be challenged" and as such, residents of Jerusalem can purchase apartments "in all parts of the city." On Thursday, Barkat stressed that the "future of Jerusalem is clear," and it will remain an undivided city. "We will resist any attempt to try to divide Jerusalem. It is not practical to divide a city. There is no good example, today or in history, or a divided city that works. "People are not aware of the facts," he said, describing the history of the Sheikh Jarrah building, which once housed Christians, and later was sold by the Israeli government to a Jewish buyer who came forward with the highest bid. "Legally and without prejudice, the fact that people want to build that area and use it… we don't see a problem here," he said. "They have the right to build and live there like anywhere in Jerusalem." Barkat stopped short of criticizing outright the Obama administration's opposition to the project. But he said, "I just want to make sure that the sovereignty of the State of Israel in Jerusalem stays the way it is." Regarding Israel's plans to demolish homes in Silwan in east Jerusalem in order to build a new archaeological park, Barkat denied residents had been "evicted." "I disagree with that kind of notion," he said. He further drew a line between building in Jerusalem and settlement activity in the West Bank. "Legally, Jerusalem is a sovereign city in Israel and the sovereignty is not going to change," he said. "Jerusalem is a totally different discussion than anything else."