- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that divides Jerusalem would be “worse than no deal,” the city’s mayor says.

“There’s one threat [to Jerusalem]. That’s, God forbid, pressure from the world to divide the city,” Nir Barkat said Tuesday. “That’s the biggest threat. It will never work, it’s a bad deal, and it’s worse than no deal.”

He spoke at a lunch briefing in Washington organized by the Israel Project.

Mr. Barkat’s comments came three days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter urging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to restart peace talks.

Mr. Abbas, who wants East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state, has demanded that Mr. Netanyahu freeze construction there as a precondition for joining talks. The Israeli premier has refused.

The status of Jerusalem has long bedeviled the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Previous Israeli prime ministers have agreed to cede the Arab parts of East Jerusalem to a Palestinian state under a peace deal, but Mr. Netanyahu publicly has refused to entertain the notion of a divided city.

“On a practical level, there’s no good example of a city — God forbid — that was ever split that works,” Mr. Barkat said. “And unfortunately I hear people talking about it, and it’s very important to explain to people that’s a threat to the existence and the ability to develop Jerusalem as an open, inviting, respected city to all religions of the world.”

He argued that since Israel conquered the eastern part of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, it has been the only one in which all religions have free access to their holy sites.

“People have all kinds of desires and demands,” Mr. Barkat said of dividing Jerusalem. “I think it’s a demand that we must say no [to].”

While the vast majority of Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian state, polls show that dividing Jerusalem remains a highly controversial position.

“I don’t think there’s any government that will be able to do that,” Mr. Barkat said. “No government will have the support of the people of Israel. There’s a huge majority in Israel that will not enable that to happen, so even if people talk about it, the reality is, I don’t think it’s something that will ever pass.”