Analysis: External events and demographics leave Kollek's legacy crumbling

If he transformed Israel's capital from a border town into a bustling metropolis, then that accomplishment proved short-lived.

By
January 3, 2007 01:52
2 minute read.

 
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Teddy Kollek's legacy began to fall apart during his third decade as mayor of Jerusalem. If his greatest achievement was transforming Israel's capital from an underdeveloped border town into a bustling metropolis - home to all shades of Jews and Arabs - then that accomplishment proved short-lived. When Kollek reached Jerusalem City Hall in 1965, it was seen as a short stop in the high-flying career of one of Ben-Gurion's brightest boys. He was destined for loftier posts, but the Six Day War changed all that. Of course Kollek wasn't the architect of the war that united both sides of the city, but he used reunification to spur 20 years of rapid expansion, building tens of thousands of new homes in neighborhoods across the Green Line and erecting a series of municipal landmarks.

  • The 'Post' pays tribute to Teddy Kollek But Kollek had no control over external events, such as the first intifada, which turned wide spaces of east Jerusalem into no-access areas. Neither was his incredible drive enough to reverse deeper demographic trends. Kollek might have been a great builder, but he failed to create an infrastructure that would provide employment beyond the government sector. During his period, factories and businesses departed for Tel Aviv and with them began the exodus of the young, secular middle-class. Larger forces were also at work and national and religious fault-lines that had been successfully papered over in the years after 1967 began reappearing, and Jerusalem was once again divided. In the end these splits cost Kollek his job in 1993. After being forced by the Labor Party to run once again for office at the age of 82, a coalition of the right-wing and haredi propelled Ehud Olmert to office while the Arab population that had been radicalized by the intifada boycotted the municipal elections. By then, talk of the eternally reunited Jerusalem was little more than hollow rhetoric. The city was rapidly degenerating into disjointed townships: the Palestinian neighborhoods which were reverting to their old village habits; the internally isolated haredi strongholds rapidly expanding northwards due to a growing birthrate; the fleeing secular population; and in the south of city, the slum-like housing estates of Katamonim and Ir Ganim surrounding small enclaves of affluence where few but the rich could afford to buy anything larger than a three-bedroom apartment. Even some of the new sprawling neighborhoods created by Kollek were already rapidly deteriorating. This, along with the Israel Museum, the Biblical Zoo and the Kikar Safra City Hall complex, were the legacies that Kollek left his succesors. Like Kollek, Ehud Olmert as mayor succeeded in bringing hundreds of millions to the city both from foreign donors and through his connections in central government, but his control of the municipal machine was limited due to the presence of various special interest groups in his coalition. He failed to reassure the secular population that accused him of selling out to the haredim and continued deserting the city. After being reelected in 1998, Olmert tried to create a wide coalition that would include all of Jerusalem's Jewish groups, but in the end, he was forced by his haredi partners to exclude the overtly secular parties. The disappointed Olmert turned his sights back to the national political scene. By 2002 Uri Lupolianski was mayor and Kollek's vision of a united Jerusalem belonging equally to all Israelis was rapidly becoming history.

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