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Interview with the Mayor of Jerusalem

Aired March 24, 2010 - 17:49:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): East Jerusalem -- Israelis says it's theirs, but the Palestinians claim it's the capital of their future state. Israel's recent decision to build more homes in the disputed area has angered many Palestinians. The announcement, made during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, has also cast a shadow on efforts to restart the peace process.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- have profitable negotiations.

FOSTER: In the middle of the controversy, one man is in a unique position, the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. Part of his job includes approving new construction permits anywhere in the city. A former software mogul, Mr. Barkat became mayor in November, 2008. The election of a secular businessman marked a real change.

Barkat's predecessor, Rabbi Uri Lupolianski, came from the city's growing population of ultra Orthodox Jews and he was widely perceived to have favored them.

Nir Barkat is seen by many as the great hope of the city's secular Jewish community and he's pledged to be the mayor of everyone -- a man charged with running, arguably, the world's most divided city.

The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, is your Connector of the Day.


FOSTER: And in my interview with Nir Barkat, I put it to him that it's generally fair to say that Arabs don't approve of Israel's building plan in East Jerusalem.

And here's what he had to say.


NIR BARKAT, MAYOR OF JERUSALEM: The Arabs generally do not have different views on the city of Jerusalem.

FOSTER: Are you not taking their views into account?

BARKAT: Well, naturally, building Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem is a natural thing and I accept that. And I am a mayor of all residents of the city of Jerusalem and I have (INAUDIBLE)...

FOSTER: But you're already going ahead with a building project which a lot of people from the city don't believe in.

BARKAT: Well, when you ask the people, both from the left and the right side of the Israeli map, our people understand that we have to build the city. There's a shortage of land in Jerusalem. People are not aware of the fact there's a 3,000-year-old history, that we have 3,000 buildings for preservation. There's a shortage of land.

And what you must do, in a wise way -- and that's the macro plan that Jerusalem is -- is building upon, there is a natural expansion of the different neighborhoods to areas that were not built before, that were mountains before. And now the city is, thank god, surviving -- flourishing and -- and building. So there's a natural growth in the city of Jerusalem. And we have to manage it in a way that is not one on account of the other.

The macro plan calls for expansion -- a natural expansion on land that was not used before for the -- for building.

FOSTER: If we look at the wider issues, Batta Mustapha from Nigeria asks: "Does Israel take the views of the United States into consideration when it's dealing with Palestinian issues?"

This is obviously a very hot topic right now.

BARKAT: Of course. I mean Israel lessons and we -- we see the Americans and the -- and the Europeans as strategic partners to a future of democracy in the world in general and security in the world in general. Of course we take them into account.

FOSTER: Does it play into your everyday decisions on -- in the city?

BARKAT: Well, managing the city of Jerusalem is a lot of day to day management and dealing with the services and better planning and...

FOSTER: But it's not a priority?

BARKAT: Well, I think it's more of to listen to other people's views and it's very important to understand other people's views. It doesn't necessarily mean we have to agree on everything. You know, even in marriage, you don't always agree in everything, but you learn to respect different views.

FOSTER: OK. And William Marlowe asks: "What do you think of the idea for the U.N. to recognize Jerusalem as a sovereign international city nation-state, similar to the Vatican in Rome, in an effort to make Jerusalem a safe, neutral zone?

BARKAT: Well, when you check out, 43 years of a united Jerusalem, reuniting the city of Jerusalem, Jerusalem never had better freedom of religion and freedom of practice faith for anybody that wants to practice his own faith.

FOSTER: Than right now?

BARKAT: As a matter of fact, the only limited religion in Israel, in Jerusalem today, are the Jews, that are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. Any Christian, any Muslim, any Jew can go anywhere he wants. But Jews to the Temple Mount, to pray, to practice your own religion. And in the 2,000 years of history since the destruction of the Temple in -- 2,000 years ago, it was never as good as it is today.

So de facto what we're saying, under Israeli sovereignty, we're de facto practicing freedom of religion in the city of Jerusalem. And so we don't need to build anything else. We've proven that, indeed, we're worthy of managing the city of Jerusalem for the benefit of the world.

FOSTER: OK. Jonathan Kaplan from Sydney in Australia -- questions coming from all over the world -- asks: "How do you expect those of us who support Israel to justify the continued building of houses in the West Bank?"

BARKAT: The West Bank is different than the city of Jerusalem. I leave that to the prime minister to negotiate with the Palestinians.

FOSTER: (INAUDIBLE) as it were?

BARKAT: I believe Israel has shown flexibility on that subject and I support that kind of thought of the prime minister, Netanyahu. And I believe that the Israelis have more flexibility -- have flexibility on that issue and no flexibility on Jerusalem.


FOSTER: The mayor of Jerusalem speaking to me a little earlier.

Now, tomorrow's Connector of the Day is Australian film director, Warwick Thornton. His internationally acclaimed film, "Samson and Delilah," has brought the plight of Australia's aboriginal community to screens worldwide. He casts untrained actors in the lead roles and made the film on a budget of less than a quarter of a million dollars.

Here's your chance to put your questions to Warwick. And remember to tell us where you're writing from. Head to