Former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has said that Israel “will never divide Jerusalem” and that splitting the holy city under any future peace agreement “will not function”.
In an interview with Israel’s i24 News yesterday, Barkat said that “by definition, we [Israel] will never divide Jerusalem. It’s not acceptable to me, it’s not acceptable for Likud or for our friends in the right of centre camp.”
Addressing the notion that a peace agreement could see parts of Jerusalem serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state, he added: “It will not function, there is no good example in the world of a split city that ever functioned, so we may as well never go there.”
Barkat also spoke more broadly about the so-called “deal of the century”, which has been touted by US President Donald Trump as the long-awaited solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Exact details of the deal have not yet been revealed, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that they will only be publicised after the Israeli general election on 9 April.
Responding to comments made last year by President Trump that, under the deal, Israel would have to pay a “high price” in return for a number of unilateral US moves on Jerusalem, Barkat said: “I have learnt in my business career that it’s better to say no to a bad deal than to do one.” Whether Israel will reject the measures proposed by the US on these grounds is, as yet, unclear.
Barkat’s comments will likely come as little surprise given his history of anti-Palestinian actions during his tenure as mayor of Jerusalem.
In 2018, Barkat stopped all United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) operations in Jerusalem, labelling UNRWA a “foreign and unnecessary organisation that has failed miserably”. Barkat said that he “intend[ed] to expel [UNRWA] from Jerusalem” and vowed to close UNRWA schools, leaving 1,800 children in the city without access to education.
Barkat also raided one of Jerusalem’s refugee camps, Shuafat, in October. A spokesman for Palestinian faction Fatah in Jerusalem, Thaer Fasfous, said that Barkat had toured the refugee camp – which is almost surrounded by Israel’s Separation Wall – and an Israeli military checkpoint nearby.
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Inspired by President Trump’s unilateral actions on Jerusalem, Israel has become increasingly emboldened in the city in the past year. Trump’s actions have included recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv and merging the US’ Palestinian and Israeli missions.
For its part, Israel has fast-tracked infrastructure projects such as the Jerusalem cable car, which will terminate in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. The cable car plans to stop at the “City of David” archaeological site, located just outside the Old City walls south of Al-Aqsa Mosque and which is run by the right-wing Ir David (Elad) organisation that focuses on illegal settlement activity.
Israel has also sought to extend the Jerusalem railway to connect illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem to the rest of the city. The completed sections of the Jerusalem Light Rail already completely disregard the Green Line – the ceasefire line drawn in the wake of the 1948 War to separate warring parties – passing the Old City’s Damascus Gate (Bab Al-Khalil) and Shuafat.
Jerusalem was declared a corpus separatum under the 1947 UN Partition Plan, meaning it was to be run under international administration. However, during the 1948 War, Jewish paramilitary groups still went ahead and took control of the west of the city, before later occupying the east during the Six Day War of 1967.