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Jerusalem's Mayor On The U.S. Embassy Move


When President Trump announced yesterday that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he broke with decades of U.S. foreign policy.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It's something that has to be done. That is why, consistent with the Jerusalem Embassy Act, I am also directing the State Department to begin preparations to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

MARTIN: Many world leaders condemn the move. Palestinians want the capital of their future state to be on the east side of Jerusalem, so they are furious with this. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says the U.S. was essentially withdrawing from the role it has played over decades as a peace broker. And this morning, the Palestinian militant group Hamas is now calling for a new uprising against Israel. We are joined now by the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat.

Thank you so much for being with us this morning, Mr. Mayor.

NIR BARKAT: Thank you very much, Rachel and Steve.

MARTIN: What does this mean for Jerusalem in practical terms? How's this going to change your city?

BARKAT: Well, when the president of the United States sides with the historical connection of the Jewish people to the city of Jerusalem, appreciating the truth and doing the right thing, it is a very meaningful thing for us. Long term, there's no doubt in my mind that many, many other people in the world will be influenced by this decision. I want to applaud the president for keeping up his campaign promise and doing the right thing. So first and far most important, thank you to the president of the United States for siding with our history, and the Jewish people and in Israel - and with Israel.

MARTIN: But we're hearing, as you know, Hamas is now calling for a potential third intifada. Is another chapter of violence worth this particular decision?

BARKAT: Well, unfortunately, in our region, Hamas and the enemies of Israel don't need excuses to create violence. Just two years ago, we had a round of violence just by incitement that had nothing to do with reality. And so that means that we have to stick to the right things to do anyway and not deter. We'll not be deterred by violence. I think that the...

MARTIN: But how should you city - excuse me for interrupting. How should your city address the fact that the U.N. resolution of 1967 stipulated that eastern Jerusalem is occupied land that infringes on the rights of the Palestinian people?

BARKAT: Well, occupied from whom? Everywhere you put a shovel in the ground in Jerusalem, you will find Jewish roots and connecting to Bible stories. So if anything, there's no other people in the world that have a right to the city of Jerusalem - the united city of Jerusalem - but the Jewish people. And resolution - any U.S. resolution - U.N. resolution that dismisses the Bible and dismisses the history in many, many ways is irrelevant. There - it was never Palestinian land before. If you go back, even legally, it was never anything but belonging to the Jewish people. So...

MARTIN: So what do you do about your constituents who are Palestinian? Because there are many of them - about a third of your city, Jerusalem - the residents are Palestinian.

BARKAT: Of course.

MARTIN: Can you understand why they are feeling angry right now? And how do you address their concerns as their mayor?

BARKAT: Well, first of all, my residents, I care about them all equally. All the children are my children. We are improving the quality of life of all of our residents. I'm committed to serve them. By the way, in Jerusalem, of course, you probably know we have freedom of religion, freedom of movement. In one square kilometer in the ancient city of Jerusalem, you have more functioning churches, mosques and synagogues than anywhere in the world. And we're very, very committed to serving all of our residents and maintaining that freedom that does not exist in our neighboring countries in the Middle East. So we're totally committed to serve them as residents, and we will continue doing so.

MARTIN: Although there are many Palestinians who feel marginalized in your city - for example, our own reporter there, Daniel Estrin, reports that many have had their residency permits revoked. So they don't feel as you think they feel. Many of them do feel excluded.

BARKAT: I'm not aware of anybody that his residency was provoked (ph). On the contrary, there's more and more of the residents that are filing and want to become Israeli citizens. The numbers are growing year after year. The number of residents that choose the Israeli education system, which is far superior, is growing, and it's now close to 6,000. We are - I'm taking care of my residents, and I'm not aware of - I think, factually, this is probably not true. If anything, there is consensus in my city that we have to improve the quality of life for all residents, and I'll do everything I can to make that happen and serve my residents.

MARTIN: But do you believe that part of Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state? Do you yourself support the idea of a two-state solution?

BARKAT: The answer's no, and I'll explain why. Jerusalem, 3,000 years ago, was not given to any tribe. It was the place - it was the inclusive place belonging to all people. It will never be divided in function. This is something that will never work. It never worked anywhere else in the world. It's a bad deal, and we must make sure that Jerusalem stays a united capital of the Jewish people where all residents get served equally, and honestly and fairly.

MARTIN: Nir Barkat is the mayor of Jerusalem. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

BARKAT: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.