Barkat forms Jerusalem coalition without haredim

Mayor-elect to take office next Wednesday, says he'll still court UTJ and Shas.

barkat kotel check caption 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
barkat kotel check caption 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem Mayor-elect Nir Barkat has formed a city council coalition without the two major haredi parties, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas, although he will seek to add them in the near future, his spokesman said Thursday. Barkat's difficulty in forming a wall-to-wall coalition stems primarily from the limited number of deputies he can appoint. By law, Jerusalem's mayor can have six deputies, each of whom receives a monthly salary of NIS 40,000 plus expenses and a driver. City councilors receive no salary, and the incoming council has an abundance of small parties that are demanding highly-paid positions. The day after his election earlier this month, Barkat said he wanted the haredi parties to join his coalition, although Zionist parties fill 19 of the 31 city council seats and he could form a coalition without the haredim. Meanwhile, Barkat's chief mayoral opponent, MK Meir Porush, said on Thursday that he would remain in the Knesset, where he represents UTJ, and would not return to the city council where he once served as deputy mayor. The decision was made in consultation with the party's leading rabbis and came just days after Porush said he was thinking of serving as Barkat's deputy. The mayor-elect's coalition will include 18 council members from seven lists: his Jerusalem Will Succeed party; the right-wing National Religious Party-National Union; the left-wing Meretz Party; Wake Up Jerusalem, a new party of twenty- and thirty-something secular and modern Orthodox residents; Yerushalayim Beitenu, a local offshoot of Avidgor Leiberman's Yisrael Beitenu; the one-person Likud list; and an independent list. UTJ, which at eight seats is the largest party on the council, is demanding at least two deputy mayoral appointments, while Barkat is ready to offer only one. Shas, with four seats, is expected to be easier to placate. It is demanding one deputy mayor and is likely to get it, but the party is said to be facing internal struggles. The head of the list, Shlomi Atias, served under Barkat in the paratroopers and is ready to join the coalition if he becomes a deputy mayor, while party strongman Eli Simchayof, who is number two, frequently butted heads with Barkat over the past five years. "The initial city council coalition expresses the will of the voters for cooperation among the Zionist parties as the basis for a wider coalition," Barkat said in a written statement. "In the coming days, I will continue to try to widen the coalition so that it is wall-to-wall and represents all of the factions voted into the council." Barkat spokesman Evyatar Elad said Thursday that negotiations with the haredi parties were "ongoing" and expressed optimism that a way would be found to bring them into the coalition. Barkat has already appointed five deputies, including two members of his own party and one each from the National Religious Party-National Union, Meretz and Yerushalayim Beitenu. He may be forced to relinquish one of his party's two positions if he's to convince the haredi parties to join the coalition. If Barkat fails to add at least one haredi party, the road ahead could be rocky. This is due to political differences between right-wing and left-wing lists on eastern Jerusalem, which haredi opposition members are likely to exploit - something that could pose a huge headache for the mayor. In addition to UTJ and Shas, an independent councillor who broke away from Barkat's party is expected to remain in the opposition. Barkat officially takes office on Wednesday, while the first city council meeting is scheduled for December 17, giving him three more weeks of wiggle room to expand his coalition. In his victory speech, he declared himself the mayor of all Jerusalemites, pledging to work even for those who had voted for other candidates. He said he would work for both religious and secular, as well as Jewish and Arab residents of the city.