Meretz Rejoins Municipal Coalition - Separate Portfolios for EJ Settlers and Palestinians

The news broke in late June 2011 that, almost exactly a year after leaving the City Council to protest the policies of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the Meretz party had decided to re-join the Jerusalem City Council as a member of the mayor’s coalition.  It was also reported that as part of the deal to re-join the coalition, Barkat had promised to freeze his plan to demolish many Palestinian homes in Silwan for the rest of this term in office.  This news, along with the news that immediately leaked to the effect that Barkat had agreed to appoint Meretz council member Pepe Alalu Deputy Mayor and to give Meir Margalit the sensitive East Jerusalem portfolio, sparked harsh criticism of the mayor from right-wing circles.

Barkat has found a clever, but very problematic, way of addressing his dual desire to get Meretz on the City Council and to placate the settlers:  he has split the East Jerusalem portfolio into two parts.  Under this arrangement, Margalit will be in charge of East Jerusalem issues, except those related to settlements.  Barket’s Deputy Mayor David Hadari (National Union – National Religious Party) will be in charge of all issues related to the Jewish population of East Jerusalem (i.e., settlements).

The fact that Meretz is back on the City Council ,subject to assurances it has obtained from Barkat that the Silwan plan will remain on hold, is good news,  Likewise it is good news that Alalu and Margalit, who support the view that Jerusalem must ultimately be politically divided, will be in a position to do some good, and perhaps stop some bad developments, with respect to the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

But there is very band news here too.  Hadari, who is much closer to the mayor, is an outspoken supporter of settlements in East Jerusalem, and particularly those in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and Ras al Amud (see herehere, and here.  He has already made clear that he believes that Israel should settle and keep every inch of Jerusalem, and it is likely he will use his position to expedite settler plans and to try to foil anything positive that Alalu and Margalit want to accomplish.  And based on past experience, regrettably, it is likely that he will do so with the support of Mayor Barkat and Prime Minister Netanyahu.