East Jerusalem portfolio head: Municipality’s handling of civil unrest has been inadequate

"I don’t remember a time since the last intifada that there’s been so much tension," says Meretz city councilman Meir Margalit.

A view of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A view of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives.
The Jerusalem Municipality’s handling of deteriorating relations with east Jerusalem residents over the past two months has been ineffective, Dr. Meir Margalit, who holds the municipality’s east Jerusalem portfolio, said Tuesday.
During an interview with The Jerusalem Post, the Meretz city councilman contended that city hall is relying primarily, and ineffectively, on police force to restore peace in the face of ongoing rioting and political unrest.
“During the last two months the situation in east Jerusalem has been impossible,” said Margalit. “I don’t remember a time since the last intifada that there’s been so much tension. So the question is: Why has the municipality done nothing to rebuild the trust that collapsed between Palestinians and Jews? And why did they leave it to the police to do this?” While Margalit conceded that Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman has made numerous efforts to engage in dialogue with Arab residents at community centers throughout east Jerusalem, he deemed such encounters as “irrelevant.”
“We all know that the community centers are irrelevant because they don’t change facts on the ground,” he said.
Moreover, Margalit claimed that Turgeman is “the wrong person” to enter such discussions, considering his political affiliation.
“He’s a religious right-winger,” he said.
“How can Palestinians on the ground trust a person from the Likud? In such a critical period, the municipality has done nothing to fix the problem, and when they do send someone, they send the wrong person to the wrong Palestinians.”
Asked who the “right Palestinians” are, Margalit said the only effective discourse would be with members of Fatah, who largely dictate general sentiment in the eastern portion of the city.
“The municipality needs to talk with political figures associated with Fatah, but it does not recognize them and will not have contact with them, and that’s why they can’t do anything positive on the ground,” he said.
Although Margalit noted that hostilities have been relatively calmer over the past two weeks, he emphasized that unless common ground is found soon, the cycle of violence will continue indefinitely.
“Someone needs to reconstruct the relationship with Palestinians, but no one knows who the leaders are, or they don’t recognize them if they do,” he said.
According to Margalit, the most efficacious means of starting a constructive dialogue would be for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to freeze housing demolitions and grant more building permits.
“This will calm the situation without a doubt,” he said. “And it’s so easy for him to do it, but no one does because they don’t understand the Palestinian mentality, or how they feel.”
In response to Margalit’s critique, the municipality issued a statement accusing the councilman of being a provocateur.
“We regret that instead of helping to calm the eastern portion of the city and reducing tensions, which will help advance east Jerusalem residents, Meir Margalit is engaged in creating provocations and generating media headlines that do the opposite,” it said.
“The Jerusalem Municipality maintains constant contact with the leadership of the residents of east Jerusalem in order to calm the situation and help residents, in parallel with unprecedented efforts leading to the mayor in recent years to reduce the gaps in education, infrastructure, construction, and community well-being.”
“According to all the polls the satisfaction of east Jerusalem residents has increased considerably, and the municipality will continue its efforts,” it concluded.