Barkat to open alternative parking lot

Privately-owned site opposite J'lem's Old City being discussed as alternative for next weekend.

barkat view of walls 248 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
barkat view of walls 248 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A parking lot will be opened in the city on Saturdays to accommodate weekend visitors to the capital, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Thursday, without specifying which lot. The comments came as negotiations continued between city officials and the haredi leadership to reach an accord by next weekend that will be amenable to both sides, with talks focusing on the opening of a privately-owned parking lot opposite the Old City walls instead of the nearby city lot. Late Thursday, the mayor again defended his June 12 decision to accede to a request by the city's police chief to close the municipal parking lot for two Saturdays in an attempt to reach an agreement that would forestall further violent haredi protests. "This was not a capitulation to violence, but mutual respect," Barkat said at a city council meeting. The move has been criticized by some secular residents as surrendering to extremist haredi violence. "Barkat: There are 9 days left to open up the parking lot," read a banner raised by two secular demonstrators outside the city hall meeting Thursday night. The municipal parking lot will remain shut this weekend, barring an unexpected eleventh-hour agreement on Friday, Barkat spokesman Evyatar Elad said. He added that a parking lot would be opened by next week. The clash over the parking lot, which is being operated on Saturdays by a non-Jew in keeping with Jewish law, has emerged as the first major problem for Barkat since his election seven months ago. The mayor has asked the owner of a privately-owned lot opposite the Old City walls if it could be used on Saturdays, an official said Thursday. The owner said he would respond to the mayor next week after consultation with rabbis, the official said. The privately owned lot is located underneath the Mamilla shopping mall, which also houses a new hotel that will be opened in the coming days. In the first sign of compromise, an official with the anti-Zionist Eda Haredit sect, which organized the protests, said late Thursday that his group would not protest a hotel opening a parking lot on Saturdays, but that the issue had to be resolved by the rabbis next week. The city lot was originally opened on June 6 in agreement with Barkat's haredi coalition partners, to accommodate weekend visitors who were illegally parking on main thoroughfares near the Old City due to a dearth of parking spaces. About 100 motorists parked their cars in the city lot on the one Saturday it was open. Analysts saw the dispute as an opportunity by the fringe organization to pounce on the secular mayor, who is seen as a political novice.