Thursday, March 5, 2009

Jerusalem mayor rejects Clinton's criticism

Jerusalem's new mayor said Thursday that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was ill-informed when she criticized the demolition of Arab houses in this hotly disputed city. He said the practice is about law and order, not politics.

On Wednesday, Clinton called Israel's demolition of the illegally built Palestinian homes "unhelpful" and in violation of a U.S.-backed peace plan.

Israel has issued orders for the demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem. Palestinians say they cannot receive proper building permits from Israeli authorities, and the planned demolitions are means to assert Israel's control over the disputed city.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the area. But the annexation is not internationally recognized, and the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as capital of a future independent state.

On Thursday, the city's mayor, Nir Barkat, said Jerusalem was a victim of a double standard and a campaign of Palestinian disinformation.

"I totally reject the notion that we are kicking people out of their homes, that is not the case," he said. "If you build illegal houses, you pay the consequence ... I expect people to obey the law."

Barkat said he made his position clear to Clinton personally during her visit.

Speaking to foreign journalists, he said that since the beginning of the year the city had demolished 28 illegal homes _ 17 in the predominantly Arab eastern area and 11 in the predominantly Jewish western area.

"In west and east Jerusalem, the planning process and the ability to give licenses needs improvement," he said. "However, it is not an excuse for people to build illegally." Barkat said he was acting to expedite the licensing procedure.

The vast majority of housing construction in east Jerusalem has been for Jews, not Palestinians, and the area lags other parts of the city in infrastructure investment.