Barkat seen forming broad coalition in Jerusalem

Haredi former rival Meir Porush could even serve as his deputy.

Barkat speaks to supporters 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Barkat speaks to supporters 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Jerusalem Mayor-elect Nir Barkat is conducting intense negotiations that are likely to lead to a near wall-to-wall coalition in the city council, which would be Zionist-based, but include haredi parties as well, and could even see his haredi former rival become his deputy. The talks, which are expected to continue until Barkat takes office on December 3, could see the return of MK Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism to the Jerusalem Municipality, where he would be a senior deputy mayor. Before he first entered the Knesset in 1996, he served on the Jerusalem City Council, and was at one time deputy mayor. The possibility that Porush, who lost to Barkat in November 11's mayoral election, will be appointed Barkat's deputy is pending the success of the negotiations and the approval of his rabbis, Porush said Sunday. A decision was expected "in the coming days," he added. Porush had been expected to return to the Knesset, but with national elections on February 10 he faces the prospect of finding himself without a job as a result of an expected reshuffle in his party's Knesset candidates list. Although secular and modern Orthodox parties will make up nearly two-thirds of the new Jerusalem city council, rendering the support of the haredi parties less vital, Barkat said last week that he planned to invite the haredi council members to join a broad-based coalition on the basis of his vision for the economic betterment of the city. Officials from both United Torah Judaism and Shas immediately voiced interest in joining. The critical municipal portfolios, including planning and construction, finance and education, would remain in the hands of Zionist parties, with Barkat himself retaining charge of the latter as he promised during his campaign. If Porush decides to join forces with Barkat, in addition to his position as deputy mayor, he would likely be charged with haredi education, a post he previously held under then-mayor Ehud Olmert. If the negotiations are successful, Barkat could emerge with 30 out of 31 city councilors backing him, and only one independent city councilor, Meir Turgeman, a renegade member of Barkat's party before the recent municipal election, remaining in the opposition. At the same time, the plethora of small parties negotiating to join the coalition means that the race to become one of six salaried deputy mayors has gotten much tighter. The rest of the city council will serve without salaries. Barkat, a self-made hi-tech millionaire who has previously announced he would donate his salary to a Jerusalem charity and accept a symbolic shekel-a-year, is weighing asking the Interior Ministry for permission to appoint a seventh deputy mayor since he will not be taking a salary himself. The Interior Ministry is unlikely to approve such a request. In the past, Barkat has said he would like to work with as few deputy mayors as possible. Barkat spokesman Evyatar Elad said Sunday that Barkat intended to appoint six deputy mayors in accordance with the law when he takes office next week.