Teddy: Knight of Jerusalem

He epitomized a 'united Jerusalem,' but at our last meeting he agreed to support Ehud Barak's call to divide the city.

By MOSHE AMIRAV
January 3, 2007 23:33
4 minute read.
Teddy: Knight of Jerusalem

teddy kollek 88. (photo credit: )

In the summer of 2000 a political storm swept Israel when, at the Camp David talks with Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton, prime minister Ehud Barak displayed a readiness to "divide" Jerusalem. I was Barak's adviser on Jerusalem affairs in those days, and had assembled a group of 14 top experts to come up with a political solution to the problem of Jerusalem. The team concluded that the city had to be divided; that 33 years of Israeli control of east Jerusalem had not achieved Israel's national goals; that the city remained split down the middle - in every sense. Separating Jewish Jerusalem from its Arab neighborhoods would strengthen the capital economically and enable us to focus on service delivery and development. There is an unbridgeable chasm between peace with the Palestinians - and the whole Muslim world - and a united city under Israel sovereignty. Ehud Barak knew of my long-standing connection with former mayor Teddy Kollek (who had been defeated by Ehud Olmert in 1993), and asked me to seek his support for the division of the city. If obtained, such support would be of immense political and symbolic value. I RECALL the day I first met Kollek, back in 1973. I arrived for the meeting at City Hall with great enthusiasm. For people of my generation Teddy was a giant figure. He epitomized a "unified Jerusalem." Admirers called him the Israeli Herod; foes labelled him a protector of Islam. I had prepared arguments supporting a "small Jerusalem." As I walked into his office I stood in awe at the sight of Teddy, sitting behind a large desk. On the walls were dozens of flags, medals, awards and pictures from across the globe presented to this man who represented Jerusalem to the world. He offered me a Cuban cigar (I declined), lit one for himself and embarked on a monologue that lasted 15 minutes: "Young man, I am impressed by the report you wrote, and I agree with you 100 percent. The problem is that the [national] government is governing Jerusalem, not me. Regrettably, the government and I are in disagreement about the way this city should be developed. I think they are making historic mistakes. There is nothing left for me to do, except scream." The longer he talked, the more shocked I became. It was my first lesson in the politics of Jerusalem. The disagreements between the mayor and successive prime ministers highlighted Kollek's pragmatism as against their concern with maintaining the "united Jerusalem" myth. When Teddy finished his monologue he looked at me with a cynical, rather mischievous grin, and said, "Young man, your entire government is delusional. One day they will wake up, but by then it will be too late." I WENT to work for Kollek. When I was director of the Road Safety Authority I recall our arguing, sometimes vociferously, about the treatment of east Jerusalem Arabs. I headed the committee that sought to equalize services for east Jerusalem. I argued that as Arabs numbered about 30% of Jerusalem's population it was necessary to increase the budget for the Arab sector from 4 percent to 10%. Kollek disagreed that the municipality should be responsible for funding equal infrastructure and services for the Arab citizens of the capital. It was the job of the national government, he argued. Then, in 1989, I publicly called for the Arabs to be permitted to establish their own municipal authority; Kollek saw this as a direct challenge to the "unity of the city" myth. He fired me from my managerial position at the municipality. After about a month he called me in for a talk. If I apologized publicly, he said, he'd give me my job back. When I declined, he declared: "Young man, Jerusalem will never be divided. We have yet to succeed in uniting it, but talk about dividing her into two municipalities, as you proposed, is forbidden. We will never divide Jerusalem." My response was: "Teddy, how many more years have to pass before we admit our historic mistake and change course - or, on the other hand, succeed, finally, in uniting the city?" He looked at me cynically: "You are like all the politicians. You lack a long view of history... You have no patience, young man, and to your question I answer thus: 100 years - yes,100 years are necessary to unite the city." I refused to apologize, but Kollek gave me my job back anyway. Despite the ups and downs of our relationship over the years, in my eyes Kollek was always a Knight of Jerusalem, a kind of Don Quixote, always battling against the windmills of national government policy, which he resisted all the way. Teddy was a master at public relations. More than once he had to accept the national government's decisions regarding the development of the city - though they ran counter to his views - but somehow he managed to chalk up Jerusalem's successes as his own. He was a vocal opponent of building new Jewish neighborhoods on Jerusalem's periphery, arguing that they constituted an "urban catastrophe." GETTING BACK to Ehud Barak: In September 2000 the Kolleks were living in a retirement home in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood. Barak sent me there to try to get Teddy's blessing for dividing the city. By this time a tired, embittered old man sat across from me. I explained how important it was for the prime minister that he, Teddy Kollek, come out publicly in support of his plan to divide Jerusalem. I didn't really expect to convince him but, to my amazement, I didn't have to try hard. "Young man," he said, "we have failed to unite the city. Tell Ehud Barak that I support dividing it." I always criticized Teddy Kollek more than I praised him. But to me he remains a knight, if a tragic one. But, then again, haven't all of Jerusalem's Knights been tragic? The writer, a political scientist, heads the Policy Department at Beit Berl College. He worked closely with Teddy Kollek from 1981 to 1993.


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