Israel’s newly elected mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, said on Wednesday he supported government plans to build more homes for Jews in and around Arab East Jerusalem.
"I believe that because we have problems in house prices on the Jewish side of the city for many, many young Jewish couples, we must ensure that new apartments are built in Jerusalem, both east and west," Barkat, speaking in English, told reporters.
Palestinians, who make up 34 percent of the city’s population and largely boycotted Tuesday’s mayoral vote, say Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, lands captured in a 1967 war, threatens their plans to found a state. A U.S.-backed peace "road map" requires that Israel halt all settlement activity and that Palestinians rein in militants.
New mayor of Jerusalem, Nir BarkatIsrael, which calls all of Jerusalem its "eternal and undivided capital" — a status not recognized internationally — plans to keep all of the city as well as major West Bank settlement blocs under any peace accord.
"These are areas that are controlled by the government, they are owned by Jews, they are not owned by Arabs," Barkat said.
"I see no reason why current neighborhoods should not be expanded (by building) more apartments for people who want to stay in Jerusalem and don’t have the right solutions."
But he also pledged "better planning and building and serving (for) Arab residents in East Jerusalem."
Barkat said during his election campaign that he might intervene in the running of Muslim shrines in East Jerusalem.
The touchiest site is the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) plaza in the walled Old City, which houses two major mosques. Jews revere the site as the remnant of two ancient temples.
Nir Barkat has vowed to bolster Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel (File)
Barkat voiced concern at excavations being performed in the plaza by the Haram’s custodians, the Islamic Waqf. Some Israeli authorities have said the dig may threaten Jewish relics, while the Waqf has described it as vital infrastructure work.
"Israeli law should be observed and if people want to dig, especially on the Temple Mount … the Waqf must be very open," he said. "We must be very responsible in anything we do in Jerusalem and things must be done transparently."
High-tech entrepreneur Barkat won 52 percent of the vote in the election, defeating Rabbi Meir Porush in a battle between Jerusalem’s secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The polls held across Israel were seen as a test of strength ahead of the Jewish state’s February 10 parliamentary elections.
Barkat, like all four mayoral candidates, campaigned on a hard-line ticket rejecting any future concessions of parts of occupied and annexed east Jerusalem to the Palestinians as part of a future peace deal.
"Tonight Jerusalem has won, tonight Israel has won, tonight the Jewish people have won," Barkat told supporters in his pre-dawn victory speech at his campaign headquarters.
"This victory belongs to all those who love and appreciate our incredible city, the eternal capital of the Jewish people."
In Arab east Jerusalem, home to some 250,000 Palestinians, numerous businesses went on strike in an electoral boycott and to protest Sunday’s expulsion of a Palestinian family forced out of their home of 52 years following a lengthy court battle with Jewish settlers.
Palestinians have boycotted the elections since Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.
(Alarabiya.net and agencies)