Recently reelected Mayor Moshe Abutbul (Shas) convened a new city administration for Beit Shemesh on Thursday without the inclusion of any of the non-haredi political parties.
The two deputy mayor positions have been filled, as have the major administrative portfolios.
Eli Cohen, who lost the recent mayoral election to Abutbul, accused the mayor of failing to fulfill his election campaign promise to form a coalition including parties from all sectors, but the mayor said negotiations for the entry of the non-haredi bloc could wait until after Passover.
A spokesman for the mayor said it was natural that those who supported him would be given senior roles in the city administration.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Cohen said it was Abutbul’s “democratic right” to create a city coalition with only the haredi parties, but that he was “saddened that our hands, which were extended in peace,” were rejected by the mayor.
“Moshe Abutbul has divided Beit Shemesh today and created an administration which represents only half of the city,” Cohen told the Post. “We extended our hand and proposed that he truly be the mayor of the whole city and act as a model for the entire country, but he refused, and after his warm words we notice his actions, which have been to establish a narrow, haredi coalition.”
Abutbul rejected these claims and said that the needs of the city required a coalition to be put together immediately.
“We can’t waste any more time, the city has not been functioning for nearly a year because of the elections, whoever wants to join the train is welcome to step aboard,” the mayor told the Post.
The two rounds of elections in Beit Shemesh in March saw Abutbul narrowly reelected, with the haredi and non-haredi parties each taking nine seats each on the 19-member municipal council.
The remaining seat was won by Meir Balaish who caucuses with the haredi sector and supported Abutbul in the mayoral elections.
Balaish was given one of the deputy mayor positions, along with Shmuel Greenberg of the local Degel Hatorah political branch.
Moshe Montag, also of Degel Hatorah, has retained the critical position of chairman of the subcommittee on housing and construction, while Yishaiyahu Erenreich of Agudat Yisrael received the education portfolio.
On Wednesday, defeated mayoral candidate Cohen, along with leaders of the other non-haredi parties, presented a document setting out the basis on which they would agree to join Abutbul’s coalition.
The document stipulated that plans for the expansion of the city be revised “in a binding manner with the [national] government, so that there will be equitable construction for all the sectors [of the city’s population].”
The issue of housing construction has been a central grievance of the non-haredi sector, which says that the large housing projects that are being planned for the city are designed for the ultra-Orthodox community and prevent the non-haredi community from expanding in the city.
The non-haredi party leaders – Shalom Edri, Moti Cohen, Richard Peres and five others – stipulated that neighborhood administrations be established with their own budgets, and that the administration for the Old Beit Shemesh district be entrusted to a non-haredi representative.
They requested that a cultural center, sports center and library which have suffered from extensive delays be completed along with other municipal amenities.
The document did not make any demands for administrative portfolios, the party leaders emphasized.
Abutbul said that the stipulations of the document were complicated and needed more discussion.
Regarding the demand to revise planned neighborhoods which have not yet started construction, Abutbul said he would not conduct negotiations via the press, but that the sides may be able to come to an agreement.
He insisted that he could not delay the establishment of a coalition for such an issue.
“Beit Shemesh will be a pluralist city where everyone is welcome to come and live, whether they are haredi, national religious or secular,” Abutbul said regarding the concerns about the future make-up of the city’s population.
Abutbul’s spokesman said that political realities were such that senior portfolios would not be given to non-haredi parties.
“In politics, the senior positions go to those who supported the victor. Would the haredi parties have received these posts if Cohen won the election?” he asked.
He noted that the first meeting between Abutbul and Cohen after the election had been at Cohen’s residence, not the mayor’s office, and argued that the mayor had dealt appropriately with the leaders of the non-haredi parties.
In the wake of the two rounds of bitterly contested municipal elections and Cohen’s defeat, some non-haredi activists and politicians have revived talk of having the non-haredi neighborhoods governed under a separate municipal jurisdiction.
Cohen said he rejected any plan to divide the city into different municipalities but said again that “Abutbul and his coalition have pushed half of the city’s residents away from the city.
“We therefore must protect the interests of the residents who voted for us with all legal means available to us,” he said.
“The nine non-haredi leaders will meet in the coming days to discuss how we can ensure that the city’s resources are distributed fairly and that our children will be able to live here as well. I have not requested any portfolio or job within the city administration and we are only concerned for the good of the city and its unity. We therefore feel free to act for the good of our electorate,” Cohen said.
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