Barkat brings haredi party into fold in J'lem

United Torah Judaism Party gives new Jerusalem mayor solid 26-seat majority in 31-member council.

nir barkat smiles 298 (photo credit: )
nir barkat smiles 298
(photo credit: )
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has reached a coalition agreement with the haredi United Torah Judaism Party, his spokesman announced Monday, giving him a solid 26-seat majority in the 31-member council. The new mayor is thus making good on his pledge to seek the widest possible coalition, which would work under his leadership toward the economic betterment of the city. The agreement, considered a major political coup for the secular mayor, will allocate UTJ, which has eight council seats, one deputy mayor, with the promise of a second if Barkat can convince the government to increase the number of deputy mayors from six to seven or eight. The haredi party, which will also be responsible for various municipal departments related to the haredi public, had previously demanded two deputy mayors, in acknowledgment of its status as the largest party on the council. Barkat, whose campaign was galvanized in part by what many secular residents felt was the increasing "haredization" of the capital, expressed satisfaction with the inclusion of UTJ. "This is another stage en route to a broad, wall-to-wall coalition that will enable [us] to embark on a struggle for the future of Jerusalem in a united manner," Barkat said in a statement. He added that his coalition would focus on meeting budgets, fund-raising and reforms, noting that it would do this by "channeling great energy into joint ventures to save Jerusalem, and not on internal disputes." Barkat said that negotiations were continuing to bring Shas into the coalition, adding that he hoped the Sephardic party, which has four seats on the council, would join soon. Shas's top two city councilors have been arguing bitterly about whether to join Barkat's coalition. With the inclusion of UTJ, Barkat has now appointed all six deputy mayors he is allocated by law, making it unclear what inducements he can offer Shas. The party has demanded at least one deputy mayor, but as the last party out could be forced to make do with the largely ceremonial position of acting mayor. Barkat has suggested he may ask the new government elected in February to increase the number of Jerusalem deputy mayors to as many as eight, due to the number of residents living in the city, although approval of such a controversial move is far from certain. A deputy mayor gets a NIS 35,000 monthly salary and a driver. An independent city councilor who was a renegade from Barkat's party in the last municipal government and will remain in the opposition had pledged to petition the High Court of Justice if Barkat named more than six deputy mayors. Before he was elected, Barkat said that he wanted as few deputy mayors as possible.