Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat strongly criticized Israeli Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog’s plan to concede sovereignty over eastern Jerusalem as presented at the 13th annual Jerusalem Conference.
“The plan will divide, split and fragment Jerusalem,” said Barkat on Tuesday, February 9. “It will build more and more fences and walls in the heart of the city and cut into its flesh. It is a game of hide and seek, pretending that the problem will go away if we don’t look at it.”
Barkat continued to express his strong objections to Herzog’s plan. “The idea that we should withdraw from parts of Jerusalem is a dangerous, slippery slope,” he told the audience. “It starts with giving up our sovereignty over villages in eastern Jerusalem, continues with concessions in the Old City, and ends with giving up sovereignty over the Western Wall.”
“Whoever thinks Jerusalem can be divided is delusional,” Barkat added. “Daily life, employment, and trade in the city traverses both its west and its east. Jerusalemites from all parts of the city work and live together in hotels, restaurants, and hospitals.”
Both Barkat and Herzog spoke at the 13th annual Jerusalem Conference, organized by Arutz Sheva, a network affiliated with the religious conservative right wing. The conference tackles political, economic, social, and religious issues in Israel and is held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem.
Herzog had defended his plan as approved by the Labor party in a speech at the conference on Monday, February 8. “The Labor party made an important decision yesterday. We should complete the construction of the fence and let the Palestinians govern themselves. On the other hand, we should have the army remain in the areas we vacate and not repeat the mistake we made in the disengagement from Gaza.”
Herzog said his plan included maintaining control of the major blocs of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria: “Zionism will be victorious when the world acknowledges the blocs as part of Israel, including the Etzion bloc, to which I am personally connected.”
However, the plan would see Israel withdraw from Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. “If we don’t wake up now, we will find ourselves facing a binational state named ‘Israstine,’” said the Labor party chairman. “When we pray for Jerusalem, we don’t mean the 13 Arab villages surrounding it.”
Mayor Barkat has recently joined Netanyahu’s Likud party and has been rumored to be planning to lead the party in the future.
Barkat presented his own plan in response: “The right way to deal with the challenges we face is to strengthen the city as a whole. We must emphasize what unifies us, narrow gaps that have grown over generations, deal harshly with terror while cooperating with moderate factions, and run a thriving, open, and secure city under Israeli sovereignty,” he said.