Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said Wednesday that he would welcome a Palestinian embassy in Jerusalem, but denounced the idea of splitting the city between Israel and the Palestinians as part of a peace deal.

"There is not one example in the world of a split city that worked," said Barkat. "Either it's dysfunctional or it gets reunited. Any other so-called 'creative solutions' will not work."

Speaking at the Washington Institue for Near East Studies, a U.S. think tank, the mayor cited Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, likening a pullout from East Jerusalem to yielding ground to militants.

"Israel took a risk in Gaza," Barkat said. "We thought we were doing business with the PLO, but we got Hamas. Doing the same thing in Jerusalem would be like having a Trojan horse in the heart of the city."

Describing his vision for the city, he said: "Never was Jerusalem as open for people to practice their religion freely as it is today."

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and formally annexed its eastern half in 1980 - a move never recognized internationally. Both Israel and the Palestinians see the city as their eternal capital. The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram as-Sharif, is the Judaism's holiest site and the third holiest in Islam.

"The only limitation on religion in Jerusalem today is that Jews are not allowed to pray at the Temple Mount," Barkat said. "Over 200,000 Muslims came during Ramadan to pray at the Temple Mount. This was strategically important for us in the future. Israel proved, both practically and ideologically, that we can share this wonderful city with the world."

Israeli construction in the city's traditionally Arab east has sparked internatioal condemnation. But Barakat insisted that new building would benefit Jews and Arabs alike.

"There is a master plan," he said. "The plan calls for expansion for all. In the last 15 years, the Arab population in Jerusalem is growing faster than the Jewish population. We are pushing ahead and building the city for all of its citizens."

He said: "I'll do anything I can to make the Arab residents [of Jerusalem] feel as committed to the city as other Arab residents in Israel."

On the matter of whether the United States should move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Barakat said: "I will be happy for every country to have an embassy in Jerusalem, including the U.S. - it's long due. I’ll be happy to welcome Palestinian embassy there, but they do not rule the city, as Mexicans don’t rule Texas."