Most of Jerusalem’s Arab residents want to live under Israeli rule and do not want to see the city split between Israeli and Palestinian control, according to Mayor Nir Barkat.
“The vast majority of the Arabs in Jerusalem prefer to be on the Israeli side. They don’t want the city divided,” Barkat said.
Barkat, who was speaking to an audience of English-speaking Jerusalemites at the city’s Great Synagogue earlier this month, said he based his assessment on the findings of surveys reported by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Washington Institute does independent polls of the Arab residents of East Jerusalem, and you see a very nice growth in (levels of) satisfaction,” he said. “The last poll was done last September. Compared to November 2010, general satisfaction (among Arabs) with the quality of life in Jerusalem grew from 44% to 56%.”
Barkat was speaking before a recent upsurge in tension in the city, which saw several clashes at the Temple Mount and on the northern edge of the city, with a Palestinian shot dead in the Al-Ram neighborhood after he threw a firecracker at Israeli troops during a demonstration last weekend.
The mayor said he could not predict whether there would be a major resurgence of violence – particularly if the Palestinian Authority revived its efforts to achieve international support for a unilateral declaration of statehood. “Whatever can happen from the other side, I don’t know,” he said. “We should prepare, God forbid, for any kind of thing.”
Nonetheless, he said, his strategy was to “improve the quality of life for the residents of Jerusalem, improve their feeling in the city, make sure that they have a lot to lose. As long as that (improving) trend continues, the rationale for any kind of violence within the residents of Jerusalem is not going up, it’s going down.”
Barkat said he was working hard to make up for a shortage of 1,000 classrooms in the east of the city. “Today we have 300 classrooms in different phases of being built (in East Jerusalem) and approved and funded by the government and the municipality. It took some time – because you have to allocate the land…”
He was also building roads: “All in all over the next five years we’ll probably be investing over a half billion shekels just in building roads in East Jerusalem.”
On housing in the east of the city, Barkat said there were “over 10,000 apartments that are not registered and over 20,000 with building infractions.” Rather than taking legal action in tens of thousands of cases, or ignoring the entire issue, he had decided “to press the restart button, and start rezoning neighborhood after neighborhood.” The goal was both to create less friction, “and for the benefit of being sovereign and taking responsibility.”
Neglecting the eastern part of the city, prior to his election as mayor, Barkat said, had “damaged the unity of the city in the eyes of the world. When we claim that the city is united but we don’t demonstrate that we know how to deal with all the residents, it hurts us.” Now, there was a growing local Arab community council leadership, and that leadership knew it had “an address” for its needs in City Hall.
Dissatisfaction with municipal services (in East Jerusalem) went down to 16% from 35%, Barkat added, again citing the Washington Institute’s comparative surveys. “You see that (the residents) acknowledge and understand that we care for them.”
Summarizing the latest survey’s findings in a briefing paper last September, the Washington Institute’s David Pollack wrote that nearly half of east Jerusalem Palestinians “would prefer to become citizens of Israel rather than of a new Palestinian state… Only one-quarter (23 percent) of the city’s nearly 300,000 Palestinian residents said they would “definitely” prefer Palestinian citizenship… Remarkably, 42 percent said they would actually move to a different neighborhood if necessary in order to remain under Israeli rather than Palestinian authority.
The latest survey, noted Pollack at the time, was conducted by Dr. Nabil Kukali of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, in partnership with Princeton-based Pechter Middle East Polls. “Every one of east Jerusalem’s 19 Palestinian neighborhoods was sampled in exact proportion to its share of the total population, and the face-to-face interviews were conducted privately by local Palestinians in respondents’ homes.”
A majority of the East Jerusalem participants were now satisfied with their standard of living, Pollack added, “up from 44 percent in November. And just 43 percent now say they are dissatisfied on the issue of obtaining building permits — down greatly from around 70 percent in the previous survey. Similarly, only 16 percent now report dissatisfaction with Jerusalem municipal officials, a significant improvement compared to 35 percent in November.”
On the issue of violence, the survey found that “21 percent say a new intifada in Jerusalem is very likely if peace negotiations with Israel collapse entirely; an additional 36 percent say this is somewhat likely.”
Noted Pollack: “Surprisingly, these figures are actually down slightly from November 2010. More ominously, however, two-thirds predict that some groups would continue the ‘armed struggle’ against Israel even if the two sides reached a peace agreement.”