JERUSALEM —The biggest Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds published a long interview last week with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. The interview is an unusual event in the political landscape of this nationalist Palestinian newspaper that has long spent its ink attacking Israeli policies.
In the interview, Barkat lays out details of construction plans for a new neighborhood in East Jerusalem that is meant to be built for the Arab community. The mayor also talks about his plans to improve the services for Arab Israelis, and reduce the tensions with Israel's Jewish majority.
The fact that Al-Quds was willing to interview the city's mayor is one of the most public signs of the "Israelization" underway amongst the Palestinians of Jerusalem. The vast majority of them are making their living in the western part of the city, and some even venture outside the city, to destinations in central and northern Israel, in search of work.
The Hebrew language schools in Jerusalem are full of Arab students, and the number of students from East Jerusalem at the historic Hebrew University is growing rapidly. There is also a slower but still growing trend of Arab Israelis demanding applications for full naturalization in Israel (more than 20,000 have already become full citizens).
And yet, there is one very important aspect that Barkat did not mention: some 20,000 houses were built recently in East Jerusalem without proper construction permits. It is an entrenched phenomenon that was not brought up at all during the interview. In several neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, which is technically under Israel's sovereignty, there is a complete breakdown of the state's services and regulations.
A ticking civil bomb
In these areas, home to up to 120,000 citizens (one-third of Jerusalem's Arab community) poverty is widespread and criminal gangs run their businesses with virtual impunity.
[rebelmouse-image 27089113 alt="""" original_size="800x533" expand=1]
Mayor Barkat. Photo: Wikipedia
How did it get this way? While local Israeli administrations were unable to control these areas, the Palestinian authorities are not allowed to enter — and the result is complete lawlessness, dense high-rise buildings without any safety regulations and narrow alleys filled with garbage.
There are virtually no sidewalks or post offices. The water supply is irregular and the sewage and sanitation infrastructures are insufficient. There are scant signs of police, ambulances or firemen, and bullets from clashes between various gangs can be seen on the pavements.
Compared to other parts of Jerusalem, prices are, not surprisingly, ridiculously low: for $26,000 you can buy a four-room apartment which includes a kitchen and a bathroom.
These are areas abandoned by the state; and sometime soon, something will happen in these hidden corners of Jerusalem. Maybe it will be an earthquake, a fire, or simply a raid of the Israeli Defense Forces to quell the unrest among the gangs.
But whatever it is, and whenever the moment arrives, Israelis will look for who is responsible. Then Mayor Barkat will have to respond to other questions.