Reining in Barkat

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is once again proving that he remains faithful to the views of the extreme right on all issues related to the capital.

At the same time that the government is easing the blockade on Gaza to mitigate international criticism toward Israel, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has pushed the country back into the eye of the storm. While U.S. President Barack Obama tries to salvage the Middle East peace process, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee this week approved Barkat's initiative to create a recreational park in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

The plan calls for razing 22 of the 88 homes built without permits in the neighborhood known as Al-Bustan (Gan Hamelech ), with its residents transferred to a nearby area. Jerusalem city hall refuses to hold talks with the neighborhood's Palestinian residents over alternative plans they have proposed, and even ousted the Meretz faction from the city's coalition along with its head, former deputy mayor Yosef Alalu.

This is not the first time Barkat has proven to his electorate - many of them from the political center or left - that he in fact remains faithful to the views of the extreme right on all things related to the capital. Under the pretext of "developing East Jerusalem," Barkat is promoting a plan to bolster Jewish presence in Arab neighborhoods. Under the pretext of "law and order," he is pushing out Palestinians from areas Israel annexed unilaterally in June 1967.

Barkat is conducting himself like a bull in the china shop of his putatively undivided city, defiantly ignoring Israel's pledge to include East Jerusalem in negotiations on a final-status agreement. This demonstrates a pointed lack of interest in the international ramifications (particularly in the Arab world ) of violating the status quo in neighborhoods east of the Green Line, where fully a third of the city's residents live.

In March 2009, after Barkat dismissed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's censure of home demolitions in Silwan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Washington he would move to freeze demolitions. Four months ago, Netanyahu instructed Barkat to defer the demolition of homes in Silwan and the creation of a tourist park there. Shortly after, Netanyahu also asked Interior Minister Eli Yishai not to push forward measures to build 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, which had been authorized by the Jerusalem district committee of the Interior Ministry. In each of these instances, the prime minister exerted his influence and authority over both the municipal and national governments, but only after Israel suffered international condemnation and an upbraiding from the White House.

Protecting Jerusalem's fragile coexistence is a foremost Israeli interest, and responsibility for maintaining it lies with the prime minister. Netanyahu must put Barkat in his place now, instead of waiting for the next phone call from Washington or another disparaging statement from the United Nations. Jerusalem is too volatile for Netanyahu to leave it in the hands of reckless politicians.