Pepe Alalu came onto the local political scene by mistake. Toward the 1998 elections, Ornan Yekutieli, then chairman of the local Meretz party, left and Alalu was asked to replace him.

Alalu has been there ever since, and following the 2008 elections he has been a deputy mayor. For many, this decision was not easy to swallow. The left-wing Alalu, with his long ponytail and beard (he never misses an opportunity to say that he was close, at least ideologically, to Che Guevara), is criticized by many in his camp for serving as a foil to the right-wing mayor, who supports Jewish presence in the Arab neighborhoods, such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.

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There have been inconsistent reports in the media as to whether Alalu supports the mayor’s plan to cancel the High Court’s ruling to seal the Jewish-occupied Beit Yehonatan in return for retroactively approving illegal construction of homes and allowing the addition of two stories to existing buildings in Silwan, where only two-story structures are currently permitted.

On the recent issue of the Beit Yehonatan and construction planning in Silwan, Meretz is divided.
No, it is not totally accurate that [Meretz city councillor] Meir Margalit and I say two different things. The problem is complex, and the situation forces us to look at it differently, but we share the same goals.

And what are those?
We share the same vision of separating Jerusalem into two capitals for two peoples... The question is how and what should be done to achieve it. There, we sometimes disagree.

On the issue of the mayor’s plan regarding Silwan, you and Margalit disagree, at least judging from your respective statements. While he publicly called for canceling the expulsion of the Jewish residents of Beit Yehonatan, you support legal adviser Yossi Havilio’s call to close it.
I don’t agree with him, but I can understand him. I am caught in a trap here.

You are against the mayor’s steps, but at the same time you are his deputy and part of his coalition.
The situation is not simple. The mayor’s plan is the best plan we have ever heard. But the problem is Beit Yehonatan. And that is the difference between me and Meir. For him, it is an issue of house demolitions. For me, it is about the law – it is not about Left or Right.

So you agree with Havilio?
Absolutely. I believe that the law prevents me from considering any other aspect.

So in the case of Beit Yehonatan and the mayor’s proposal to legalize it in return for a building solution for the Arab residents there, you have no doubts?  And despite your support for the Arab residents, you will not support this plan?
I was the one who revealed the story of Beit Yehonatan, and at the beginning Havilio didn’t even pay attention to it. I had to insist again and again until he decided to take care of it. So what do you expect me to do now? I was the one who initiated the whole issue – I cannot withdraw.

But people who share your opinions say that perhaps it is better to leave the Jewish residents of Beit Yehonatan where they are and, in return, make some improvements in the Arab residents’ conditions, including building permits.
Today it is a construction permit in return for Beit Yehonatan; tomorrow it will be another Jewish resident’s house in an Arab neighborhood in return for a work permit for Arabs – where do you draw the line? Where does it stop? I know what I’m talking about. I have met Palestinians who told me, ‘You have a house, a job – I don’t have anything. What do I care about your principles? Let me live, let me feed my children, what do I care about these settlers?’

And what do you answer?
I say it’s a slippery slope. I support the law. I, of course, do not renounce my right to protest – like when I go to demonstrate against the Jewish residents in Sheikh Jarrah, though I know it is legal [for them to live there], since the High Court ruled it. I respect the High Court, but I can protest – the law allows me to. 

Is that what you expect your fellow party members to do?
We don’t have a choice. Look at what is happening already, such as the violence against the judges. Where do you think it comes from? Because people disregard the law. The court ruled once, twice, three times – this house should be sealed. That’s what should be done. There is no other way to respect the law.

Barkat says if the law has to be applied and Beit Yehonatan is to be sealed, then 200 demolition decrees of Arab homes also have to be implemented.
I could be evasive, arguing that, after all, I am deputy mayor in charge of culture. But I want to answer this question honestly. I bring about change, I make a difference. I am also in charge of education in east Jerusalem. I spend a lot of time improving the situation there – adding classrooms, additional schools and funding for informal education…
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