Friday, November 14, 2008

Jerusalem has a new mayor, The Gaza 'siege', Olmert the Oracle, Our Town,

Wrap for the week of November 9 through 15

Barkat's agenda

Fiorello LaGuardia, the legendary New York City mayor between the Great Depression and World War II, seldom disappointed reporters for a quote.

"It makes no difference if I burn my bridges behind me - I never retreat," he declared.

In truth, the big-hearted LaGuardia figuratively built more bridges than he burned. Which is probably a good example for incoming Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Not only should Barkat avoid burning his political bridges, he shouldn't tear down the concrete one that's already up.

At a post-election news conference, Barkat hinted he'd consider dismantling Santiago Calatrava's "Bridge of Strings," designed to allow the light railway to glide over traffic at the entrance of town. Whatever the result of his promised reexamination of the entire over-budget, overdue and under-planned train, he should certainly resist the temptation to demolish the bridge.

Why not, instead, hold an all-Jerusalem contest to come up with ideas on how best to put the bridge to use? Let's find a way to give purpose to "the bridge to nowhere."

BARKAT'S stunning 52-43 percent victory over Meir Porush is being acclaimed by everyone who sees Jerusalem as the epicenter of Jewish civilization and the focal point of Zionist aspirations, as well as a "normal" city where real people - Jews, Muslims and Christians of all stripes - live and work.

He comes to power just as the global economic crisis is being felt in Jerusalem - already the poorest city in Israel. So it is essential that he focus on the issues that matter most: jobs, housing and transportation.

Barkat should declare a tax moratorium on arnona payments for enterprises willing to open their doors in Jerusalem and provide employment for eight or more workers. He needs to discourage luxury development aimed at non-residents while promoting affordable housing for the middle class. Barkat should revive plans to build a new sports and convention arena near Teddy Stadium.

Most urgently, the new mayor needs to rapidly untangle the downtown traffic mess which is killing business.

CERTAINLY for his first 100 days - though we'd like it to be longer than that - Barkat should avoid the meta-issues candidates for Jerusalem mayor relish debating and which, in fact, fall far out of their purview.

While mayoral powers are limited, Barkat should use the prominence that comes with the job to be Jerusalem's voice. He needs to press the national government for more money to subsidize housing, jobs, education and transportation. He'll need to forcefully advocate for the fast train between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Linking the capital to Ben-Gurion Airport and the coastal metropolis would give this newspaper's hometown economy a tremendous boost.

He will be Jerusalem's face to the Diaspora. So much of what is aesthetically and culturally appealing here is made possible by the philanthropy of people who live overseas. Support from abroad also bolsters Jerusalem's hospitals, yeshivot, non-Orthodox religious institutions and the Hebrew University.

Barkat now becomes our ambassador to the world. Let Teddy Kollek be his model.

THE NEW mayor must be a healer. He's made a good start by trying to form an all-inclusive city council bringing together parties ranging from the haredi to the devoutly secular. Let him also find an informal way, outside the limelight, of routinely consulting with Arab leaders.

This city is comprised of a complex mosaic of communities. All communal leaders owe it to their constituencies to help Barkat do his job.

Barkat, for his part, must bring greater transparency to city government. He should encourage HOT and YES to offer live broadcasts of city council sessions and most committee meetings (a la America's C-SPAN).

With hard times ahead, the new mayor needs to challenge citizens to pitch in. Let City Hall create a volunteer corps so that seniors and young people can give of their time to make this a safer, cleaner, healthier and more welcoming town. He might turn to outgoing mayor Uri Lupolianski to head such an endeavor which, perhaps, could involve elements of the haredi population.

To paraphrase LaGuardia, there's no right-wing or left-wing, religious or secular, Jewish or Arab or Christian way of picking up the garbage or reducing the wait for a bus.

Mr. Barkat, get the job done - and do it fairly, efficiently and inclusively.


The Gaza 'siege'

Here's what anyone who follows events in the Gaza Strip - cursorily - might reasonably conclude: An Israeli "siege" periodically leaves 1.5 million people hungry and in darkness. Innocents are "collectively punished" while the IDF capriciously "raids" Gaza killing Palestinians.

Yesterday, the UN agency which for the past 60 years has been charged with providing Palestinian Arabs with direct relief (though forbidden to permanently resettle them) warned that its Gaza operations could run out of wheat, meat, powdered milk and cooking oil by the weekend.

THE TRUTH is that Gaza's misfortunes are largely self-inflicted. Hamas has made battling Israel its highest priority regardless of the damage this causes Palestinian society - its founding charter calls for the obliteration of the Jewish state. Paradoxically, Hamas remains immensely popular. In fact, some Israeli policymakers argue that it would be pointless for Israel to topple Hamas because the population is Hamas.

But Hamas cares about how the West perceives it. Its spokesmen have resurrected an offer of a 10-year truce. The cost? Total Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines, release of all Palestinian prisoners, creation of a militarized Palestinian state, and flooding Israel with millions of Palestinian refugees.

Israel disengaged from Gaza in the summer of 2005 and the Palestinian Authority could have theoretically begun turning the area into a Singapore on the Mediterranean, making it a prototype of what a Palestinian state could look like. Instead, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas squandered the opportunity.

When Hamas ousted Abbas, taking control of Gaza in June 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak pursued a strategy aimed at turning Gaza's population against Hamas, isolating the Islamists within the international community and preventing them from overthrowing Abbas in the West Bank. Only the latter goal has been unequivocally achieved and only because the IDF remains stationed in Judea and Samaria.

With Hamas in control of Gaza, Israel imposed a limited embargo on the hostile territory. Nevertheless, on any given day dozens of trucks carrying food, fuel and medicine are allowed in.

The shekel continues to be Gaza's currency. The US and EU spend millions of dollars trying to help ordinary Palestinians, and Abbas continues to pay the salaries of most government workers.

ISRAEL AND Hamas accepted an Egyptian brokered six-month truce in June giving respite to the people of Sderot.

But lately, Hamas has been setting the stage for the next round. On November 4, the IDF destroyed a tunnel that Israeli intelligence believed was going to be used - at any moment - to infiltrate into Israel for the purpose of kidnaping soldiers. Since then Hamas has fired 60 Kassams and 20 mortars at southern Israel. Wednesday's fighting is a continuation of Hamas aggression near the border.

With Hamas shooting, Israel temporarily closed the crossing points used to deliver humanitarian goods and fuel. Hamas then cynically ordered Gaza's only power plant closed, plunging Gaza City into darkness, and brought thousands of children into the streets for a candlelight protest.

The plant, in fact, provides just a quarter of the Strip's electricity. Israel provides 70% via 10 high-power lines, Egypt supplies the rest - none of it interrupted.

PLAINLY, Israel's Gaza strategy isn't working. Olmert himself thinks "a collision with Hamas is inevitable."

Hamas has used the truce to further enhance its sophisticated subterranean supply lines. Advanced weaponry is brought in; so too, is everything from tobacco and sheep to car parts - all taxed by Hamas's "tunnels administration." So much diesel fuel has been flowing through pipelines under the Philadelphi Corridor that a glut on the market has reportedly been created. Only cement and iron can't easily be smuggled.

What now? Israeli defense officials do not want the cease-fire to fall apart. At the same time, Jerusalem is not willing to allow a creeping escalation of Hamas violence. If the Islamists end the cease-fire, the cost must be a relentless pursuit of their leaders so as to diminish the capacity of Hamas to govern.

Over the long haul, Israel simply can't tolerate an Islamist regime anywhere between the Mediterranean and the Jordan that is dedicated to its destruction.

Those concerned about the well-being of the people of Gaza should put the pressure where it belongs - and tell Hamas to stop the violence.


Olmert as oracle

Ehud Olmert spoke so earnestly in favor of an Israeli withdrawal "with minor corrections" to the 1949 armistice lines, at the state memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin on Monday, that the audience could be forgiven for forgetting that he was elected to implement a significant West Bank pullback - and failed.

With Olmert at the helm, Kadima received 29 Knesset seats in March 2006 based on the now forgotten "convergence" platform. He promised to establish "permanent borders" after disengaging from most of the West Bank and consolidating the settler population into blocs on the Israeli side of the security barrier.

It was a unilateralism intended to force statehood on the Palestinians, even in the absence of a peace agreement.

Someone should tell Olmert that what distinguished Kadima as a centrist party was its opposition to the near-total pullback supported by the Left, as well as the do-nothing or dig-in policies of the Right. The speech Olmert on Monday gave was - in tone and substance - one that Yossi Beilin could have given. Kadima's new leader, Tzipi Livni, is trying to disassociate herself from Olmert's remarks. It won't be easy unless she tells Israelis explicitly where she and Olmert part company.

The centrist position opposes a pullback to the 1949 armistice lines; expects the Palestinians to abandon their claim for a "right of return" to Israel proper; wants a Palestinian state to be demilitarized; and insists on retaining strategic settlement blocs. Israelis also understand that no deal is possible while Hamas controls Gaza and may be poised to take over the West Bank.

CONVERGENCE was not to be. Within a month of Olmert's election, Hamas took Gilad Schalit prisoner, and Hizbullah launched the Second Lebanon War.

By the time Gaza fell to Hamas in June 2007, the Kassams were smashing into Sderot and the Winograd Committee was exposing Olmert's inept handling of the war.

Of course, another reason why Olmert couldn't pursue convergence was that he allowed himself to become politically impotent. For the better part of his tenure, he's been under police investigation over allegations he failed to quickly dispel - money-stuffed envelopes from a man named Morris Talansky; claims of double-dipping on travel expenses; reported conflict of interest at the Ministry of Trade and Industry; and suggestions that he bought a home for below market value in return for political favors.

With all this, Olmert went to Annapolis (in November 2007) to relaunch bilateral talks with the Palestinian Authority. And he's been negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas for the past year with little to show for it.

Yet, bizarrely, Olmert spoke as if he was the leader of the opposition, not the sitting prime minister. He - of all people - would speak truth to power about Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights and Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem?

He would point out that "the decision [to withdraw] has to be made now, without hesitation" and that "the moment of truth has arrived"?

He would lash out against settler extremists, as if he wasn't the ultimate law enforcement authority in the land?

Then, perhaps catching himself, Olmert made a new promise: "I will not let this continue."

In truth, having failed to implement the centrist platform upon which he was elected, clinging futility to power despite the Winograd findings, and failing to stop spiraling lawlessness in the West Bank, he really should not presume to lecture Israelis on the need for a two-state solution.

YET THE most egregious aspect of Olmert's speech was how he managed to inoculate the Palestinians from their peacemaking responsibilities.

On Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death, PLO chairman and PA president Abbas urged the Palestinian polity to "cherish" the path of the "shahids" - Arafat, Abu Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir), George Habash and Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin. Abbas then urged Palestinians to pursue Arafat's "peace of the brave" - whatever that means post-second intifada.

In his final weeks, as a caretaker prime minister, it is too late now for Olmert to do much more than talk. But instead of lecturing Israelis, he could more constructively spend the remainder of his administration demanding that the Palestinians meet Israel half-way and enable his successor to proceed toward an agreement that would give Palestinians independence and Israel abiding security.


Our town
From Pisgat Ze'ev and Sanhedria to Emek Refa'im and Har Nof, voters in Jerusalem - and scores of other municipalities - go to the polls today to elect a new mayor and city council.

The capital's mayoral candidates are Nir Barkat, Meir Porush, Arkadi Gaydamak and Dan Birron. If none receives 40 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off.

Thirteen parties are competing for 31 places on the council, including Barkat's Jerusalem Shall Succeed, Porush's United Torah Judaism, Gaydamak's Social Justice and Birron's Green Leaf. A coalition of modern Orthodox and secular good-government types running as Wake Up Jerusalemites say they'll back Barkat if elected.

Before casting their ballot for mayor, voters should ask themselves:

Who will best manage the department chiefs tasked with the day-to-day running of the city?

Which man best embodies Jerusalem's role as the capital of the state and heart of the Zionist enterprise?
FOR PEOPLE to whom Jerusalem is more than a symbol, but also home, the prosaic does matter: By making driving into the city center - day or night - a nightmare, incumbent Mayor Uri Lupolianski has discouraged people from patronizing shops and restaurants in the King George/Jaffa Street/Ben Yehuda vicinity. Which candidate is most likely to reverse the strangulation of downtown?

On a range of issues - the boondoggle light rail construction project, dirty streets, long waits for buses, the red tape involved in doing business in Jerusalem - who is most likely to come up with innovative solutions?

Who will really remedy the neglect in the city's Arab neighborhoods and make it easier for east Jerusalem tax-payers to obtain building permits? Most Arab residents will boycott the elections and disenfranchise themselves. Yet the city has an obligation to provide equal services to every sector of the population because Jewish sovereignty - not as a slogan, but in practice - comes with responsibility.

Who will work to make the bureaucracy more responsive? Ask the right questions? Be smart and fair in allocating the city's budgetary resources? Who will best encourage the private sector to create jobs?

Who is most likely not to see the mayoralty as an opportunity to dispense patronage?

Who will trouble himself to master the intricacies of what the city does and how it does it - from sanitation and social-welfare, to youth services and culture? For a mayor can't supervise what he doesn't understand.

BUT THE second criteria, no less important, is who can best embody the ethos of Jerusalem as the political and spiritual center of the Zionist enterprise?

Who best understands that Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people? Who embraces the centrality of the State of Israel - and Jerusalem - in the life of the nation? Who best appreciates the need for mutual respect among Jews? Who best understands the multi-faceted nature of the Jewish people in the Diaspora?

Jerusalem's current non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox mayor is an affable politician. He has tried to navigate between the demands of his insular haredi constituency, who see modernity as mostly threatening and coercion as a sometimes necessary tool, and his public role as chief executive of a city that is home to a non-haredi majority: modern Orthodox, national religious, traditional as well as secular.

In June, City Hall spent NIS 2 million for a ceremony to inaugurate the light rail Bridge of Strings (really a bridge to nowhere) at the entrance to town. In what's become known as the Taliban affair, officiating haredim insisted that a group of school girls about to perform a dance don ski caps and cloaks so as not to appear "promiscuous." And so it was.

Today voters get to decide what sort of Judaism they want people to think of when they think of Jerusalem - inviting and Zionistic, or coercive and parochial?

Voters need also to choose wisely in selecting a slate to work with the next mayor. Tens of thousands of votes in the last election were squandered on parties that failed to clear the threshold.

Today's Jerusalem election will not just determine whether city services are fairly and efficiently delivered. It will determine whether mainstream Zionism still holds sway in Zion.

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