Last month, Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, spoke at Penn. He addressed students, faculty and community members alike on “Jerusalem’s 3,000 Year Old Brand: Business Model in Municipal Government.”
There is no doubt that Mayor Barkat is an economic visionary, and I applaud the Knowledge @ Wharton program for inviting him to share his impressive entrepreneurial savvy. However, there is more to Mayor Barkat than his economic innovations. Our campus community should also be aware of his dangerous political policies, which have continuously and seriously threatened the viability of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jerusalem is a beautiful city. I lived there for seven months, studying abroad at the Hebrew University and then extending my stay to conduct thesis research. Its stones are slippery soft, worn from years of wear and its people represent a diverse array of religions, languages and ethnicities. But for too long, this city has been the centerpiece of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, derailing peace talks and provoking fiery passions on both sides.
In 1967, Israel extended its jurisdiction and administration over East Jerusalem, effectively annexing it to the state. This area includes the sacred religious sites of the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and several Palestinian neighborhoods and villages. At the time, the international community condemned the unilateral annexation.
Today, 45 years later, Israel remains the only country in the world that recognizes the annexation of East Jerusalem, while the Palestinians continue to insist that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
All negotiations on a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have hinged on the future of Jerusalem. The approach outlined in the Clinton Parameters — and other models of a two-state solution — recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty and Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty. But actions like the construction of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, mass revocations of Palestinian residency statuses and Palestinian housing evictions and demolitions will make an ultimate resolution to this issue much more difficult.
Unfortunately, Mayor Barkat has made it his priority to bury the two-state solution under the idea of Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternally united capital.” In an effort to make Jewish control over all of Jerusalem unambiguous and irreversible, he has encouraged housing demolitions in Palestinian neighborhoods and increased Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem. Palestinians are being evicted from their homes, replaced by ultra-nationalist settlers whose are zealously opposed to a peace agreement.
Just this February, I visited a multipurpose community center that the residents of Silwan had worked to build for their children. One week later, I watched in horror as Israeli government bulldozers arrived, demolished it and cleared the ground for a new visitor’s center at the City of David National Park, which is owned and operated by an organization of right-wing settlers. Mayor Barkat’s planning policies, which he promotes as uncontroversial attempts to develop the city, are in reality politically explosive and destructive.
I am deeply frustrated — though not surprised — that throughout his entire talk at Penn, Mayor Barkat did not use the word “Palestinian” even once. Although Palestinians, a national group with national aspirations, make up almost 40 percent of his city, he referred to them consistently as “the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
My advice to the mayor? Wake up and smell the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unless you want to go down in history as the leader who signed the death warrant of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state, please stop the expropriation and housing demolitions. Business development is great, but your city has much bigger problems.
The people of Jerusalem — Israelis and Palestinians — deserve better.
Leanne Gale is a College senior. She is also the co-president of J Street UPenn. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.