J'lem mayor condemns freeze request

Nir Barkat calls UN building halt ask "racist; illegal."

nir barkat jaffa gate 311 (photo credit: AP)
nir barkat jaffa gate 311
(photo credit: AP)
“Mayor [Nir] Barkat condemns the racist suggestion of the UN secretary-general that construction permits in Jerusalem should be issued by religion, race or national identity,” the mayor’s spokesman, Stephan Miller, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
“Further, Mayor Barkat condemns the notion of any freeze of construction for anyone in the city of Jerusalem – a notion that would be deemed illegal in the State of Israel and in any Western democracy,” he added.
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“The municipality will continue to issue building permits to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike throughout the entirety of Jerusalem.”
The mayor’s response came after remarks made by Ban Ki-moon on Friday, during a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in New York. The two men discussed a slew of issues, including the possibility of beginning direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and the Israel Navy’s May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
But the issue of building rights in Jerusalem – which has remained at a tense simmer since Barkat announced in June that he was moving forward with plans to redevelop the El- Bustan, or Gan Hamelech, section of the eastern Silwan neighborhood – were also touched upon by the secretary-general, who asked that Israel continue its freeze on new Jewish housing in the West Bank, which is due to expire on September 26, and begin similarly restricting Jewish construction in the eastern half of the city.
Barkat’s response is in line with the mayor’s longstanding opposition to a construction freeze in any part of the capital, and his insistence that Jerusalem remain united.
That stance has put Barkat at odds with Ban in the past, most recently regarding the mayor’s plans for Silwan, which the secretarygeneral condemned when they were announced in June. In an official statement at the time, the UN chief called the plan for El- Bustan “contrary to international law, and to the wishes of Palestinian residents.”
The statement also cautioned against “provocative steps” that could “heighten tensions in the city.
“The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the decision by the Jerusalem Municipality to advance planning for house demolitions and further settlement activity in the area of Silwan,” the statement continued.
Barkat responded then as well, addressing a letter to the secretary-general that did not mince words: “It was with great dismay that I read your response to the Municipality of Jerusalem’s rezoning plans for the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan and the King’s Garden, areas that were never planned for residential use and lie just hundreds of meters from the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock,” Barkat wrote.
“Your response revealed a clear lack of understanding by the UN of our initiatives,” the letter continued.
“Your office failed to ask pointed questions about the rezoning, to request to see the plans, or even seek a basic understanding of my goals for the residents of Jerusalem. It is much easier to talk and criticize, than it is to learn, invest or act.
Unfortunately, the UN has never asked the Municipality of Jerusalem what it could be doing to improve the quality of life of the residents of Jerusalem.”