Mayor Nir Barkat
Mayor Nir Barkat Israel news photo: Flash 90

Mayor Nir Barkat has outlined his vision for Jerusalem's future. The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) has issued a Jerusalem Issue Brief entitled, “The Mayor's Vision for Jerusalem.” In it, Barkat says he wants the city to once again become an international cultural and spiritual center.

Barkat says he is a “Jerusalemite who spent 15 years in the high-tech sector, taking Israeli companies and ideas into the global marketplace.” He retired seven years ago at the age of 42, and has been working as mayor at an annual salary of one shekel, “promoting and developing the city of Jerusalem.”

Unfortunately, in many cases, the mentality of the Arabs is first to build illegally and then to apply, or not apply, for a building license.

Excerpts from the Mayor’s Vision:

Jerusalem has a population of 800,000 people today, which will grow to a million people 20 years from now. The current population ratio is one-third Muslim, two-thirds Jewish, and two percent Christian. In the next 20 years, we anticipate a need for 50,000 apartments - one-third for the Arab population and two-thirds for the Jewish population.

The vision I have for the city is to return Jerusalem to the role it played two and three thousand years ago as a world center - a destination for pilgrims and believers throughout the world… Our vision is to develop Jerusalem so it can fulfill that role - to develop tourism, to be a cultural center, and to exploit the spiritual potential of the Holy City. My goal is to reach ten million tourists a year [five times as many as the current figures – ed.] a decade from now. Paris, London, Rome, and New York have over 40 million tourists a year.

By increasing the number of tourists, we will gain on a number of fronts. First, we will gain ten million ambassadors. People who come to the City of David excavations or the Western Wall tunnels, or who travel to the holy sites, whether they be Christians, Muslims, or Jews, if they come with an open mind, they will understand the power of the city of Jerusalem. Many people have the Bible in their homes, where Jerusalem is mentioned many times.

Ten million tourists a year is the equivalent of 140,000 new jobs for the city, and this is relevant for both the Jewish and the Arab populations. It is one of the ways to get Jerusalem out of its poverty. It is an economic incentive that can unite many people around a common vision.

I told the American administration that I hope nobody is actually expecting that a building freeze will happen in Jerusalem or that a freeze should be only for the Jewish population. This would be illegal in Israel and unconstitutional in most democratic countries around the world.

Jerusalem must stay united. There is not one example in the world of a divided city that ever worked. We have to upgrade the quality of life for all residents, and we must keep Jerusalem undivided.

Two thousand years ago, there was already over a thousand years of Jewish history in Jerusalem. Two-thirds of the Old Testament happened here. Everywhere you put a shovel in the ground in Jerusalem you will find Jewish roots.

Jerusalem is a microcosm of what is happening in the country, and I believe that forming relationships between the leadership of the ultra-Orthodox community and the secular, and sitting together on practically every problem that arises, brings solutions to the problems. Not everyone is always happy with the decisions we make, but the methodology of sitting together and focusing on the common denominator works.

The way I manage the municipality is not political but through professional management, where we share thoughts and bring professional solutions in the same way as when I managed in the business world. After a year as mayor, I can tell you that this does work.

Because Jerusalem is a 3,000-year-old city, we have patches upon patches of history about which we have to be very considerate. There are over 3,000 buildings designated for preservation in the city of Jerusalem.

At the moment we do not have the correct ratio between business and residential areas, and there is a large gap in terms of buildings for public needs, such as schools, synagogues, and community centers. In the past, in western Jerusalem, too many building permits were issued to change areas designated for hotels and commerce into residential projects, whereas in eastern Jerusalem, too many neighborhoods were built illegally, and the municipality and the government could not keep up. When new neighborhoods are built illegally, this creates a huge gap in infrastructure, including roads, public buildings, and public land.

For two thousand years, Jerusalem did not enjoy the degree of freedom of religion that it has had since it was reunited 43 years ago. As a matter of fact, when Jerusalem was in Jordanian hands, synagogues and churches were desecrated or destroyed. Today, every religion manages its own sites. People must be enabled to practice their faith in their own way in the city of Jerusalem. The only limited religion in Jerusalem is Judaism, where by law Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.

Illegal Building
The reality is that Jews usually do not build illegally... Unfortunately, in many cases, the mentality of the Arabs is to first build illegally and then apply, or not apply, for a building license. The reality is that it becomes very difficult to serve the Arab population in such a situation.

This is the result of forty years of neglect, where the planning process was not fully functioning and municipal services were not fully available. The reality is that a lot of buildings were built totally illegally in areas where they should never have been allowed. Today there are about 20,000 illegal buildings in the Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem.

The challenge is to fix this. We are doing a pilot project in the area of Silwan - a small Arab neighborhood that consists of 659 buildings; only six of them have permits. Silwan is situated on a hill zoned for buildings up to two stories high, and 50 percent of the structures there are over two stories.

We are faced with three options: [To ignore or destroy is not logical.] So what we have done is to re-plan the neighborhood and allow up to four stories. We are also busy working on the infrastructure, to improve the roads, the areas for schools, and to add lots of kindergartens and other municipal services. By re-planning the whole neighborhood, we are trying to address the management of this neighborhood in a professional manner for the benefit of the residents.

In Silwan there are 41 Arab-owned buildings and one Jewish-owned building - Beit Yonatan – that are over four stories high. To demonstrate equality before the law, we must treat all of the buildings over four stories high the same. My recommendation is to shave all of the buildings that are over four stories, and not single out only the Jewish-owned building for government intervention. To go after one building is discriminatory and my recommendation to the government is to deal with all residents exactly the same, whether they be Jewish or non-Jewish.