Jerusalem is the ‘laboratory for the solution’ says deputy mayor

On the sidelines of AIPAC, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum talks Jerusalem and its embassies

The deputy mayor of Jerusalem wants the city to be known for more than its iconic image on the world stage, a city of three faiths in the throes of a never-ending conflict. But a place where diversity is leveraged to build culture, business and innovation.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, 45, an Israeli immigrant from Gibraltar, took up the number two spot on the Jerusalem city council in December, helping lead the city behind the elected mayor, Moshe Lion.

It is the first guard change in 10 years for the Holy City, with former mayor Nir Barkat often celebrated for changing the trajectory of Jerusalem, investing in the population in education, business and culture and elevating the city’s status as a tourist and event destination.

Moshe Lion’s victory was in part viewed as a correction of Barkat’s modernization push, as the 57-year-old garnered support from the more religious sector of Jerusalem. But Ms. Hassan-Nahoum disagrees.

“He, himself, is like me — Sephardi, modern-religious, moderate and he understands that Jerusalem would be — it would be a disaster for Jerusalem to become [the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of] Bnei Brak,” Ms. Hassan-Nahoum said in an interview with Jewish Insider. “He understands that and because of that, I joined his coalition and we’re working together towards our common goals.”

Ms. Hassan-Nahoum is a member of the Yerushalmim party, which positions itself as pluralist, a mix of religious and secular. She spoke with JI at the end of the three-day conference for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where the Romanian Prime Minister announced the country would move its embassy to Jerusalem.

“It was news to all of us and we hope it goes through,” she said. The Hondurans are planning on opening a trade representative office while maintaining their embassy in Tel Aviv. Ms. Hassan-Nahoum hopes the Romanians follow suit.

It falls under her responsibilities to accommodate the new embassies, working with the U.S. State Department on its embassy in Jerusalem and looking to plan an entire district in the south-east neighborhood of Arnona.

“I’m looking at it as an economic opportunity for the city as well, as a political opportunity for the city, and intend to plan an Embassy District using the American embassy as an anchor,” she said. “It’s not only good for the cosmopolitan character of the city, but also for providing jobs for local people.”

U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital also had the added benefit of legitimizing what Israelis already believed to be so, Ms. Hassan-Nahoum said.

“It’s given people a lot to be happy about, confidence, people feel heard. We have a right to decide where our own capitol is. We always knew that Jerusalem was our capital, it’s the seat of government for everything. But now we have international recognition and that international recognition could not have happened without the Americans. So we’re extremely grateful.”

Another step the U.S. took was ending all funding for the United Relief and Works Agency, which in Jerusalem in particular, provides certain services like managing schools and health clinics for almost 10,000 Palestinians in the Shuafat Refugee Camp.

Before leaving office, Mr. Barkat issued a memorandum saying that the city should fill the new gap in UNRWA funding so that there’s “no such thing” as a refugee living in Jerusalem.

“I look at all of my residents as residents. There’s no such thing as residents that live in the city of Jerusalem that are defined as refugees,” Mr. Barkat said in an interview with the Associated Press in October.

Ms. Hassan-Nahoum said they’ve secured about $500 million that, in part, supports education for  Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

“So eventually, slowly, we’re filling up the need for an UNRWA and we are hopefully getting out an organization that has proved to be hostile to Israel and not particularly productive for the Palestinian people that they try and serve,” she said.

Among her many other roles, her portfolio includes the Deputy Mayor for Foreign Relations, a title that the mayor once held for himself but a position for which Ms. Hassan-Nahoum feels uniquely situated. A trained lawyer and former non-profit and public relations specialist, Ms. Hassan-Nahoum speaks English, Hebrew and Spanish fluently.

One of the messages that she seeks to impart is that Jerusalem is not the source of the conflict but an example of a solution.

“It’s the laboratory for the solution,” she said, adding that the mix of the three major demographics of the population, Arab, ultra-Orthodox and secular, is a microcosm of all of Israel.

“If we can learn to live together, if we can develop models of sustainability, economic sustainability, sustainability of living together as a shared society, we’ve cracked it, we’ve cracked the code. So that’s what I want people to think about when they think about Jerusalem.”

Laura Kelly is the Capitol Hill reporter for Jewish Insider. Follow her @HelloLauraKelly

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