The Israeli mayor of Jerusalem said Wednesday that Arabs and Jews are now so intertwined that the city cannot possibly be divided, even though both Israel and the Palestinians claim it as their capital.
"You cannot divide the city," said Nir Barkat in a meeting in his office with The Associated Press and several other foreign media organizations. "I know it will never work."
Israel seized the eastern part of Jerusalem — along with the West Bank — from Jordan in the 1967 war. It then expanded the municipal borders into the adjacent West Bank, annexed the area inside the new city limits, and has ringed it with neighborhoods intended for Jews.
As a result, some 200,000 Jews now live in the occupied area of the city, alongside about 300,000 Palestinians and 300,000 Jews in the western part of Jerusalem.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem for the capital of the state they hope to set up in the West Bank and coastal Gaza Strip.
Palestinians view the Jewish neighborhoods as illegal settlements no different than the scores of communities Israel has built in the West Bank. From that perspective, there are now about half a million Jewish Israelis living in areas Israel occupied in 1967.
Palestinians are planning to ask the United Nations — where a majority of members appear to support their aspirations, and none have recognized the annexation of east Jerusalem — to recognize such a state.
Barkat argued that a divided city would be "totally dysfunctional" and against the interests of the Arab residents as well: "Where will they work? How will they cross it?"
"Show me one example of a city that (was divided) and it continues to work," Barkat said. "There's not (one) comparable idea in history that worked," Barkat said. "I've been an investor. There's a concept called 'Dead on Arrival.' It's a deal that you know will never work."
In claiming a practical impossibility, Barkat's comments differed from the typical hawkish opposition to sharing Jerusalem that tends to be based on religious or security grounds.
He said he would not change his mind even if this meant that there could be no peace deal with the Palestinians.
"Sometimes you've got to know how to walk away from a deal in order to get a deal," he said. "If people come to us and say 'Divide the city of Jerusalem' — no deal."
"With other parameters I would be flexible," he added. Jerusalem's mayor has traditionally played little or no role in peace negotiations.
Polished, wealthy and secular, Barkat is a perhaps unorthodox representative of a city of 800,000 that is Israel's poorest and is dominated by ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs.
The former entrepreneur and venture capitalist peppers his presentation with such terms as "game theory" and "business plans" — expressing faith, for example, in the strength of the "Jerusalem brand," which he said he could leverage to quadruple tourism to Jerusalem within a decade, to 10 million a year.
Since his election two years ago, he has championed efforts to revitalize its relatively shabby downtown, a centerpiece of which is a modern light railway scheduled to open to the public in coming weeks. He also said he was determined to "close gaps" between the Jewish and Arab areas, which have long suffered from poor services and infrastructure.
Barkat said he is unhappy with a "slowdown" in the construction of Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, which he said was imposed by the government facing international pressure over building in the occupied sector.
He said it was inaccurate to speak of "Jewish neighborhoods" because Israel had no control over who moves into homes there and there was a growing trend — which he could not quantify — of Arabs moving into areas, such as the neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev, which are perceived as being Jewish.
To truly freeze construction in east Jerusalem, he suggested, would require halting construction in Arab areas as well — clearly not the intention of Israel's critics.