Porush blasts gov't on Jerusalem

Mayoral candidate: PM's "stammering" on building leading to more world pressure to halt construction.

MK Meir Porush 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
MK Meir Porush 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The indecisiveness of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government over new construction in and around Jerusalem has only led to increased international pressure against such building, Jerusalem mayoral candidate MK Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism Party said Tuesday. "There has not been such a bad period for Jerusalem and its environs as the Olmert government, when it stammers about everything relating to construction in [east] Jerusalem," Porush said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "When America sees that we are willing to wait with such construction then the pressure increases," he said. The remarks by the veteran lawmaker, who was selected by his party on Monday to replace Mayor Uri Lupolianski as the haredi candidate in the November elections, were seen as an effort to reach out to hawkish non-haredi voters in the capital. Despite an official government construction freeze in the West Bank, building in and around east Jerusalem has continued unabated during Olmert's term as prime minister, over the increasingly vocal protests of the Palestinians and the international community, who routinely condemn every construction plan. In the interview, Porush said that he was determined to stop the ongoing Jewish emigration from the city which has continued over the last two decades, pledging to put the issue at the top of his agenda. "I am not [as] worried about the Olmert-Abu Mazen talks as I am over the government's inaction when it comes to Jerusalem," he said. "We don't need any new government decisions about Jerusalem, but simply someone to push for the implementation of what has already been agreed upon." Some 300,000 Jewish residents have left the city over the past 20 years, primarily in search of affordable housing and job opportunities. Nearly half of those leaving the capital were young Israelis between the ages of 25 and 34. Porush was non-committal over a continued freeze on a controversial westward city expansion plan which has been vehemently opposed by environmental groups, and said that a balance had to be reached between green groups and the need to build in the city. "I think that we have enough land reserves without damaging the green places but I need to check into this since no one would want to lose Jerusalem over it," Porush said. "If we want to bring young people to Jerusalem we do need land," he said. "We need to check if we are still in a situation where we can do it without hurting the environment." At the same time, Porush did not rule out building in other areas of the city, including eastward, where the government has frozen a decades-old construction plan which would connect Jerusalem with Ma'aleh Adumim due to international pressure. "We have to stop talking, and if we can build, then build," he said. He noted that as a former deputy construction and housing minister he had been behind various building plans in the West Bank. "I built a lot in Judea and Samaria, and didn't talk about it," he said. Porush said that the city's Arab residents were more adversely affected by humiliation than they were by Jewish building projects in east Jerusalem. He added that he supported the view of the late Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek that the city's 250,000 Arabs must be given "the full services" of city residents. "Employment and fair treatment is one of the ways to prevent extremism," he said. "The problem is that the Palestinian leaders are stronger than our leaders," he added. Throughout the interview, Porush, who has served for the last quarter-century in municipal and state government, pointedly refused to criticize Lupolianski, a party colleague, for any missteps in his five-and-a-half-year tenure, saying "I am not here to give grades or to criticize," and alternatively calling Lupolianski a "great" and "good" mayor. Porush said that he was "certain" that infrastructure work on the city's repeatedly-delayed light rail project could be completed "much faster" than the projected two years, and that the work on the project being done downtown should be coordinated with hard-hit city merchants. In stark contrast to Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat, Porush also declined to condemn either the mayor, a party colleague, or the haredi-run city hall over the city's forcing a dress code on a teenage girls' dance troupe performing at the inauguration of the new bridge at the entrance to the capital. "Jerusalem is a city where you have to use the utmost care when it comes to all the sensitivities there," he said. "You need to do everything to avoid arriving at such moments." A former deputy mayor of Jerusalem - where his responsibilities included the portfolio for improving the city and haredi education - Porush said that he had "more experience" in government than either Barkat or the Russian-Israeli billionaire tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak. The 53-year-old father of 12 said that what he admired most about Jerusalem was the "authenticity" of its residents. "Those of us who live in Jerusalem know that Jerusalem is like one's soul," he said. "Without a soul there is no life."