Jerusalem Must Be Strengthened, Not Divided

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The Israeli flag flying near the Western Wall in front of the golden roof of the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem's Old City.Credit: Reuters

To divide Jerusalem or not to divide Jerusalem? That is not the question. The right question is: How can we strengthen a united Jerusalem? Allow me to take issue with the prevailing notion among certain people that only the city’s division will lead to peace or quiet. This notion is nonsense and simply burying one’s head in the sand.

Allow me to take issue with the illusion harbored by certain people, to the effect that all the problems of Jerusalem and the country will be solved if only we rebuild the fence that divided and split the city before the Six-Day War in 1967.

There is no precedent or successful model for a split and divided city. I believe that every person who sees the situation realistically understands that Jerusalem must remain united and undivided.

The true Jerusalem – which many people are not familiar with – is a city that functions as one unit, from east to west and from north to south. It is a city in which joint life and coexistence are manifested every day and every hour in the encounter between the different religions and different segments of the population – at work, on the street, in cultural institutions and in shopping centers, hotels and hospitals. We all live and work here together, shoulder to shoulder. This is the Jerusalem of routine, not the city that is reflected in the images from the recent wave of terror. It is the Jerusalem of hope. The Jerusalem of the future.

The fabric of life in Jerusalem is a joint, heterogeneous weave, and any attempt to separate the lives of the Jews, Muslims and Christians who call our city home will be artificial and doomed to failure.

Jerusalem is a microcosm of Israel and Israeli society, but it is also a unique city unlike any other in the world. The national challenges we face – in the security, economic, demographic and other realms – find expression first and foremost in Jerusalem. Processes that are taking place in Jerusalem today are harbingers of the future for all of Israel. Accordingly, then, every success and challenge in Jerusalem is critical and resonates powerfully.

In considering the issue of a united Jerusalem, some claim there is no point investing in the Arab neighborhoods, because at some stage in the future they will not be under our control. I believe that in every future blueprint, whatever it may be, Jerusalem must remain united and undivided as the capital of Israel – and this belief and conviction is what guides my actions. I treat the inhabitants of the city’s Arab neighborhoods as permanent residents who are entitled to all municipal services and have all the obligations of residents, just like every other resident in the city.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

In order to ensure a strong, thriving and united Jerusalem, we must aspire to realize Israeli sovereignty in the city’s eastern and western sections in the same measure. We must do so responsibly, displaying leadership and demonstrating an ability to get things done. We must see to it that all the residents have rights, opportunities and services, along with making a clear demand of everyone to fulfill their obligations. I am also aware that it is not possible for us to execute this policy to the degree we would like in every part of the city. But as far as it depends on the municipality and its policy, we will follow this guiding principle.

Satisfaction level rising

And that is what we are doing. In recent years, we have made unprecedented efforts to reduce disparities. That is our obligation and responsibility as the sovereign power in the city of Jerusalem. We are investing in road infrastructures in the eastern part of the city, promoting construction plans and establishing new public structures throughout the neighborhoods – post offices, community centers, child welfare clinics and more. We have built hundreds of new classrooms in the eastern part of the city, and more will come. We extended the school day, took action to increase eligibility for Israeli matriculation, and recently completed an extensive project to assign and map out street names and house numbers in the eastern part of the city – covering hundreds of streets that for decades lacked proper names and addresses.

Together with all of this, we are acting step by step to ensure that, alongside the extension of rights and services, increasing numbers of residents will fulfill their obligations as residents, pay taxes and behave according to the law.

These actions are producing results. The satisfaction level of Jerusalem’s Arab residents is rising. The quality of life in neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city is higher than that of the Arabs in the areas of the Palestinian Authority and surrounding states, notwithstanding the disparities that still exist. A recent poll from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Fikra Forum, conducted by Nabil Kukali of the Palestine Center for Public Opinion, found that no fewer than 52 percent of the residents of eastern Jerusalem would prefer to be Israeli citizens as part of a final-status two-state solution – compared with 30 percent who expressed the same preference in a poll conducted in 2011.

What is our interest? After all, it is clear to everyone – from the left and the right – that in every future scenario, Arabs and Jews will remain neighbors. Tomorrow, too, we will go on living side by side. Therefore, our interest, Zionist and nationalist alike, is to strengthen Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, maintain the security of its residents, further its growth and development, invest resources in reducing disparities, and integrate the Arab residents into the city’s economic life, education system and workforce.

Let us not delude ourselves: A united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is the only way to ensure our national and security interests, and avert the emergence of a “Hamastan” in the heart of Israel’s capital. Only in this way – not by building walls – will we consolidate ourselves and make it clear to our enemies that we are not about to surrender to terrorism or violence. Only in this way will Jerusalem’s Arab residents gain equal opportunities and the realization of their aspirations to forge a better future for themselves and their children.

Only in a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty will economic growth and enhanced quality of life for all the city’s residents be guaranteed. Only in a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty will freedom of worship at the holy sites of all the religions in the city be guaranteed, in contrast to the situation in surrounding countries. A united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty will improve and develop the delicate fabric of life between Jews and Arabs. A united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is the only solution for the future of the city, its residents and the entire State of Israel.

The writer is mayor of Jerusalem.

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