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INTERVIEW - Mayor urges EU to preserve "united Jerusalem"
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's mayor of Jerusalem called on the European Union on Monday to reject any future division of the holy city between Israel and the Palestinians.
In a challenge to newly appointed EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, Nir Barkat warned the EU that it would lose "the right to serve as an honest mediator" if it backed a divisive new "Berlin wall".
"Jerusalem must stay united," Barkat said in a letter to Ashton. It must remain open to 3.4 billion people of the faiths that revere holy places in the ancient city, he said.
The Israeli government has also warned EU members publicly and privately that EU foreign ministers meeting this week must reject a Swedish proposal to harden support for the division of Jerusalem, calling it a "dangerous" threat to peace efforts.
Yet while world leaders have no wish to see a return to the barbed wire and enmity that divided the city between Israel and Jordan after 1948, few recognise Israel's annexation of the Arab east and its suburbs after its conquest in the war of 1967.
They want the greater city somehow shared by both sides and many see Barkat's municipality as an obstacle to negotiations with the Palestinians.
European powers favour Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as capital of a future state and have sympathy for accusations that Israel is trying to drive Arabs from a city that is now isolated from the West Bank by Jewish settlements.
In an interview with Reuters at the weekend, Barkat, an English-speaking, high-tech entrepreneur elected a year ago in a vote largely boycotted by Arabs who account for one in three residents, put forward his alternative vision of a city for all and open to all -- but firmly in Israeli control.
He acknowledged that Israel's handling of the city is subject to constant international criticism but called that ill-founded and a failure to appreciate his fair objectives:
"I admit there are gaps, looking back in the past," he said of Jewish and Arab residents. "But the planning process takes time and those gaps have to be closed."
"THAT'S NOT SIMPLE"
Barkat rebuffed international criticism of the way the municipality has treated Arab residents, some of whom have been evicted following ownership disputes or had buildings demolished that officials said were erected without legal permission. He said the city authorities sought to apply the law equally.
But Palestinians, with international backing, say eviction, demolition and Jewish settlement beyond the "Green Line" that divided the city, Berlin-like, between 1948 and 1967, are all part of an effort to make the city irreversibly Jewish.
As he appealed to the EU not to renew calls for a divided Jerusalem, the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom urged the Europeans to do the opposite and proclaim the city "as the capital of two states".
Barkat told Ashton that throughout history "there is not one important city that was divided that functioned successfully".
He did not mention that some of his toughest moments in the past year came from Jerusalem's Jewish ultra-Orthodox minority, who waged violent protests this summer against him letting a city parking lot open on Saturdays and were now opposing the operation of a new Intel chip plant on the Jewish sabbath.
To critics of his city restructuring plan, Barkat says that Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem were thrown up with little or no regard for planning and had poor services today as a result of poor infrastructure.
Arabs say they find it so hard to get building permits from Barkat's offices that they have to go ahead and build without permission. The United Nations and human rights groups agree.
Barkat acknowledged that "in some eastern parts of the city, the planning lags behind the reality". But he says he is making the process easier, and shorter, though that takes money, time and compromise.
"What we're doing right now is taking some of those neighbourhoods and replanning them in a proper way .... You have to fundraise and you have to invest in the initial infrastructure and, phase by phase, improve quality of life."
"That's not simple."
(Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Samia Nakhoul)
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