JERUSALEM (JTA) – Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said members of all faiths should be allowed to own and develop property in the city.
Barkat, in New York for a private visit, was reacting to the diplomatic row between Israel and the United States over Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem during a news conference Wednesday.
‘If Jews want to build at Shepherd Hotel … then I believe it is unacceptable" to prohibit them from doing so, Barkat said, referring to the site of a controversial Jewish-owned housing project in eastern Jerusalem, which is largely Arab. "It would be wrong and discriminating to allow to build or not to build for any person based on his religion."
Barkat reiterated his support for full Israeli sovereignty over the city, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.
"I agree with [President] Obama that Jerusalem needs to be open to all religions," he said, adding that "it is not practical to divide a city, certainly not the eternal city of Jerusalem."
Barkat also spoke about his vision for the future of the city, noting his goal of increasing the number of tourists from 2 million to 10 million a year by 2019.
On the matter of recent Sabbath riots by fervently Orthodox residents on a scale not seen in more than a decade, Barkat sounded an unapologetic tone, saying the decision to open a parking lot in central Jerusalem, which sparked the violence, was made in accordance with police advice.
Asked if he would have done anything different, Barkat replied, "Probably not."