Barkat bids to adjust Jerusalem’s boundaries

Greater Jerusalem is outlined by the blue city line and the red path of the security fence. (palmap)

JERUSALEM (JWN)—Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently spoke with mainstream Orthodox rabbis from the national-religious community in an attempt to win their support for a land swap that would trade certain parts of Israel’s capital with a future Palestinian state.

The mayor feels that such a swap would rectify the placement of certain small areas of municipal jurisdiction on the other side of the anti-terrorist security fence. The fence route had to cut through parts of the city by default, due to its hilly topography.

Barkat thinks that these areas should be formally under the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction rather than the municipality’s, which in practice ends with the fence. Similarly, other areas that belong to the Palestinian Authority but have been stranded on the Jerusalem side of the fence—which are nearly equal in area—would be annexed by the municipality.

The biggest neighbourhoods which would be affected are Kafr Aqab, Samiramis, the Shuafat refugee camp, and several other pockets which are home to some 70,000 Jerusalem Arabs. (Kafr Aqab and Samiramis may be found at the top center of the map, where the blue municipal boundary overlaps the red line of the security fence. Shuafat is found just above the center of the map, to the left of the area marked E1).

There are some 270,000 Arabs living in east Jerusalem, who make up around 35 percent of Jerusalem’s entire population of some 780,000.

Some 20,000 Palestinians live in small sections on the Israeli side of the security barrier in “Area B,” which is under Israeli security and PA civilian control.

According to the Jerusalem Municipality, the exchange would result in a very small territorial gain for Jerusalem and a net loss of about 40,000 Arab residents.

“The municipal boundary of Jerusalem and the route of the separation fence must be identical to allow for proper administration of the city,” Barkat told a conference at the National Security College last week.

The mayor’s initiative took many politicians by surprise, who took him to task for exceeding his authority regarding a national, not municipal, issue. “Barkat is trying to play prime minister and set diplomatic changes in motion instead of enforcing his authorities as mayor on all of Jerusalem’s part,” National Union MK Aryeh Eldad said.

Whatever the outcome of Barkat’s territorial swap campaign, a two-thirds majority of the Knesset is required to approve any changes to Jerusalem’s municipal borders.

But while Jerusalem’s mayor was testing the waters about possible land swaps along the city’s boundary, other steps affecting Jerusalem’s connection to its surroundings were taking place without any fanfare.

One was the opening of a new checkpoint/border crossing at Shuafat. Since there is not yet an actual border separating the two areas, the crossing’s five lanes for vehicles and a lane for pedestrian traffic look like nothing less than full-fledged border crossing between two countries.

The other is the resumption of work on separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, which is to be linked to Jerusalem by a new neighborhood to be called Mevasseret Adumim in the area known as E1 (see map).

The government has already spent hundreds of millions of shekels to establish roads, electricity lines, traffic circles, and other infrastructure in E1, a barren area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. Everything is ready for construction on housing to begin—but American pressure put a halt to the project in 2007.

The US and the Palestinian Authority claim that building in E1 would cut the West Bank into two and make it impossible for a future Palestinian state to have territorial contiguity.