Moshe Lion marks first year as mayor of Jerusalem

'I invite residents to stroll on Jaffa Road on Shabbat morning and see how clean it is all the way from Jaffa Gate to the Central Bus Station'

MOSHE LION celebrates his victory in the 2018 mayoral election. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
MOSHE LION celebrates his victory in the 2018 mayoral election.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
From the sixth story of the main building at Safra Square, its large windows overlooking the breathtaking Old City landscape, Moshe Lion has for the past 12 months been trying to navigate the most complicated, complex and sensitive city in the country – and perhaps in the world – and to improve the lives of its almost million residents.
Has he succeeded? With a reputation as a master of negotiations, Lion has a proven ability to ease tense atmospheres, giving all stakeholders the feeling someone is genuinely listening to their complaints and is truly seeking solutions.
Lion has skilfully been steering his way between coalition members, haredi, religious and pluralist representatives, while keeping the city on an even keel.
One year in, there seem to be no serious dramas playing out in the capital.
You’re right, I have been mayor for a year and the First Station is still open, the bars at Mahaneh Yehuda are not closed, residents haven’t fled – none of the apocalyptic threats and predictions have happened.
A main promise of your campaign was to clean the city. What have you achieved besides adding a third cleaning shift on Saturday evenings? Residents complain that especially on Shabbat mornings the city is still dirty.
This is not correct. I invite residents to stroll the length of Jaffa Road from the Old City to the Central Bus Station on Shabbat mornings to see how clean it is. I have found solutions, without any desecration of Shabbat, and the city is clean.
So you keep an eye on what people think about your actions?
I keep in my mind the holiness of Shabbat in Jerusalem, while I do my utmost to clean the city. Bottom line: today the city is clean. The most important achievement is the privatization of the sweeping section, a turning point in the greater plan to keep the city clean. Despite years of tension and problems, it works now.
Residents complain about the lack of parking places in the city, what with the heavy roadwork and construction everywhere.
Here are some of the steps I took. First, to promote parking inside the neighborhoods so residents who come back from work can park close to home, we removed 3,000 disabled vehicles from the streets of Jerusalem.
Second, we are looking to create additional parking. In the past few months, I signed to rezone a number of plots for parking. Soon, there will be a giant parking lot here, connected on one side to Safra parking, up to the Bezalel Campus nearby, that will provide thousands of parking places. The Light Rail road work takes up some parking places, but I have given instructions that alternatives should be provided for every parking place that the construction eliminates.
Residents understand that there are large construction projects in progress here, but sometimes feel that we live now in a gigantic construction site, that there is no city left – just road works everywhere. Must everything happen at the same time?
I ask you – what is better, a large construction site for four years, or a succession of work sites here and there over a span of10 years? I decided to execute all of these important projects simultaneously because I believe that this is the best way to proceed. I pledged that everything would be done within four years, I promise Jerusalem’s residents that when it is completed, we will soon forget these hard times and enjoy the significant changes in our life. Efficient public transportation (the light rail) will replace much of the private vehicle traffic; we will not have to “educate” the public.
Are we going to see public transportation on Shabbat?
I have always said that public transportation on Shabbat is a violation of the status quo, so it will not happen under my watch.
What will you do if there is a private initiative?
I can’t interfere with any private initiative, as you know, but this will change the character of the city and I am against it in principle.
Is there any news regarding the Emek Refaim segment of the Blue Line?
I have agreed, following the Transportation Ministry’s request, to enable an independent professional opinion. Who knows? Maybe they will provide another solution. But I want to make it clear, will not allow the project to be stopped or delayed.
Towers seem to be under construction everywhere. Who made the decision to change the skyline and character of this city and turn it into a local megapolis? When was this decided?
This is a decision of the District Planning Committee, to build towers along the lines of the light rails. There  is no other option for the city to develop, grow and attract young and strong families. You can’t strengthen the city without providing adequate housing. You can’t keep the young families in Jerusalem and stop the emigration of the young generation and at the same time say, “Don’t build towers.”
Are you sure this is not for demographic issues? To ensure the Jewish majority?
No connection at all. I want to build in order to strengthen Jerusalem – period. I have to provide housing, and jobs. So I build towers for housing and towers for hi-tech and job opportunities.
How involved are you in allocating the special NIS 2 billion approved by the government for east Jerusalem?
I am totally involved in every project and every plan. We have already seen a number of successes, with improvement in the infrastructure. It should have been done long ago, but I am happy that it is happening now. We have built classrooms, encouraging high schools to move to the Israeli matriculation system. The money is flowing without any problem.
I am working on this in close collaboration with minister Ze’ev Elkin, for the benefit of the whole city. If we want a united city, we have to take care of the interests and needs of the residents on the east side exactly like on the west side. We will have towers for hi-tech and jobs and business there – all aimed to significantly improve the quality of life of the Arab residents.
For the past six months there have been tension, riots and violence going on in Issawiyeh, yet your voice hasn’t been heard on that. Isn’t it a part of Jerusalem?
At the beginning of the school year I met here in my office with parents from that neighborhood. We had candid talks about how to manage things, but then there were disorders again. When disorders and violence occur, I can’t tell the police not to do their job. We had understandings, but there is also a problem of parent authority.
Have you tried to make use of your talents as a mediator to negotiate, to calm down the tension?
I did that during the first days of school year. It worked just for a while, and then disorders started again. The police must get involved when there is violence.
Will you resume talks with the residents there?
I try all the time. The calm must return there.
Recently Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceled an agreement between Hadassah University Medical Center and the PA to treat sick Palestinians here. Although it is not exactly in your realm, are you considering getting involved in this matter?
I can’t be involved in this; it is an issue between the PA and the Israeli government. But I have expressed my regrets for the loss on both sides.
Government offices are still not back in the city, and some are still moving out. Can you update us on your efforts?
The IPC (Kan) and Galei Tzahal are moving in within a very short time. The Water Authority is moving in. Things are moving in the right direction.
Your coalition includes haredim and pluralists. How does it work? Are you juggling between the two sides?
Everything proceeds through open communication, with no surprises or facts on the ground. We have a signed agreement and we all stick to it. We all work together – haredim and my partners on the pluralist side – Laura Wharton and Yossi Havilio. Believe me, it is not an easy task.
The Warburg compound – will you be able to deliver the goods and implement the plan to hand it over to the non-haredi residents of Kiryat Yovel?
I have not forgotten this project; I do think about it. I could have imposed a decision, but that is not my way. I always prefer to reach an agreement than cut off dialogue through a snap decision.