Ofer Berkovitch talks to 'In Jerusalem' 6 weeks after losing mayoral race

Berkovitch says he thinks the haredim put a lot of pressure on Moshe Lion.

OFER BERKOVICH: We began negotiations almost two months ago, right after the elections. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
OFER BERKOVICH: We began negotiations almost two months ago, right after the elections.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Six weeks after losing the mayoral race, Ofer Berkovitch is ready to talk.
In Jerusalem: How would describe the present situation and what led to it?
Berkovitch: I must say that right from the first days after the final results, I said – despite some significant gaps in ideology and viewpoint on many issues regarding this city between us at Hitorerut and Moshe Lion – we should strive to join his coalition. I thought that this was the most responsible choice, to answer the will of the residents.
Becoming part of Lion’s coalition, I believe, would be the right thing to do to consolidate the coalition, by representing a very large segment of residents. This would be the best way to serve all Jerusalemites – after all, almost half of the voters voted for me, so I believe it’s my duty to take care of their interests, mostly the pluralist residents. Maybe that’s not the smarter political move, but in my eyes, it was the right thing to do.
IJ: And then what happened? These days, Lion repeats that his door is open and that you have a place in his coalition, but you are not there.
Berkovitch: We began negotiations almost two months ago, right after the elections. During all this time I was sure that we were conducting candid talks in order to reach an agreement. But as the talks went on, it became clear to me that Lion had no intention to give us, the seven members of Hitorerut – the largest list on the council – any serious and significant task or position. I believe he is a bit worried to have us in his coalition. And though I realized that, I still believed until two weeks ago that this was a genuine negotiation. By now, I understand that he had no serious intention to do so.
IJ: Can you give us an example?
Berkovitch: The method was mostly wasting time. Every time we reached some agreement, things were taken back at the next meeting. I suggested that we should remove all the assistants and advisers, and just sit, the two of us. Even that didn’t happen.
IJ: What was the major obstacle? Was it the presidency of the local planning and constructing committee?
Berkovitch: My understanding is that he went back on that issue mostly because of political reasons. I agreed that this very sensitive committee would be split between me and the representative from either Degel haTorah or Shas, so that haredi neighborhoods would be under their supervision, and secular and pluralistic neighborhood [would be] under mine. It didn’t work out, mainly because we couldn’t reach an agreement on which neighborhoods belong to each side. Clearly, some of the haredim wanted to stay under their administration in neighborhoods where there are haredi residents, but which are still [predominantly] pluralist neighborhoods. I couldn’t agree with that. 
IJ: Would you say the influence of the haredi lists won him over?
Berkovitch: Yes, I think that they put lot of pressure on him, and I could sense how he acted cautiously and walked on tiptoes between me and Hitorerut on one side and his haredi partners [on the other].
IJ: Where do things stand and what will happen now?
Berkovitch: After the last phone conversation we had, when I suggested that we both meet alone and do business for good, nothing came from his side. So after a few days, we understood that we are going to be in the opposition at the Council. And that’s what we are doing now – preparing ourselves, the largest list at the council, to be a strong and efficient opposition.
* * *
Mayor Moshe Lion responded to a copy of this interview by saying he was still ready to resume talks and reach an agreement with Berkovitch.
“There is a draft for an agreement,” Lion said. “It is ready on my desk, I call on Ofer to set aside everything and just come and sign so we can work, all of us together, for the benefit of Jerusalem and its residents.” 
A spokeswoman for the mayor told In Jerusalem that three attempts at arranging a meeting between the two men over the course of the last three weeks were canceled by Berkovitch.