Jerusalem Officials Mull Long-term Plan for Dividing City

At meetings last week, city officials debated plan that would limit movement of East Jerusalem residents to the western part – except for workers defined as essential.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Israeli policemen watch a Palestinian man pray outside Jerusalem's Old City Friday, Oct. 9, 2015
Israeli policemen watch a Palestinian man pray outside Jerusalem's Old City Friday, Oct. 9, 2015Credit: AP
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Top Jerusalem municipal officials and city council members heard some far-reaching proposals last week that are aimed at restricting movement in the eastern part of the city, Haaretz has learned.

Among the ideas that were raised and are being seriously discussed by Mayor Nir Barkat and other officials in the city – 48 years after its reunification following the Six-Day War – is a scheme that would limit movement from the predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem, to the western part. According to the plans, exceptions would be made for so-called essential personnel who would be allowed to pass relatively easily through checkpoints on their way to work.

It was unclear whether the scheme was to be implemented at this time or if it was being presented as an option for the future.

Among those present at the discussion were members of the governing coalition of city council as well as professional department heads of the municipality. The initial discussion of the proposals, which Barkat said he supported, took place last Tuesday, following six terrorist attacks or attempted attacks in a 48-hour period.

The meeting broke up after a short time, however, following vocal disagreements among city councillors and the mayor.

Another meeting was convened on Wednesday, without the municipal staff, at which Barkat explained the significance of the new policy of closures on East Jerusalem neighborhoods. The discussion quickly gravitated to talk of possibly closing off that part of the city entirely to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. There was discussion of coming up a list of workers who would be allowed to cross into West Jerusalem so that the city’s economy would not be hurt.

Many of the city council members present, according to sources at the meeting, supported the proposals – despite the major impact they would likely have on the functioning of the city and on residents of both sides of it, and the possible legal consequences involved in erecting barriers to free movement.

Deputy Mayor Meir Turjeman of Barkat’s Yerushalayim Tatzliah faction expressed support for the scheme, but others took issue with it.

“It’s a complete fiction,” said council member Yitzhak Pindrus of United Torah Judaism. “Such a plan would not last 10 minutes. All of the drivers, half of the doctors, and 80 percent of the light-rail train conductors come from East Jerusalem. What do they want? To paralyze the city?”

Deputy Mayor Tamir Nir of the Yerushalmim faction also rejected the plan. “I greatly regret giving up on East Jerusalem in this way. I think [its residents] are an important part of this city. They make a decisive contribution to the economy and to its cultural diversity, and I am sorry that extremists are dictating our conduct with regard to most of the Arab residents of the city.”

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