Corridors of Power: Left out?

With a deputy mayoral position yet to be filled, Nir Barkat is trying to woo Meretz back into the coalition.

Since Nir Barkat was elected mayor, the monthly sessions of the city council have become a model of order and stability. Everything is under control; there are no surprises and no drama in the arena. The issues on the agenda are brought to vote according to preliminary agreements between the different parties that form the coalition, and the city’s affairs are managed with efficiency and in full transparency.
That’s for the public stage. But it seems that even in this businesslike order, there are still some curtains drawn – and, as a result, tense behind-the-scenes activity. Here’s the story about the latest session.
Since the Meretz party resigned/was fired from the coalition some two months ago, Barkat has been expected to name a new deputy mayor. The most natural candidate was city council member Eli Simhayof (Shas), already a deputy mayor to Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupolianski, and recently appointed chairman of Shas, following the departure of Shlomo Attias from the city council.
However, a dark cloud in the form of a recommendation by the police to indict him on the grounds of corruption in the Holyland affair hangs over his head.
“Of course, as long as the court hasn’t proven that he committed a felony, there is no reason not to appoint him deputy mayor,” explained a high-ranking official at Kikar Safra. “But it is obvious that Barkat, who is considered Mr. Clean, is not too keen on that.”
As a result, Simhayof still has not been named deputy mayor, despite some understandings that people close to him affirm exist between him and the mayor’s entourage.
As a result, the prospect of bringing back Pepe Alalu, the leader of Meretz, to the warm bosom of the coalition suddenly sounded like a better option.
The problem is that nothing has changed in Alalu’s and his party’s position: A big “no” to the mayor’s plans to demolish illegal buildings in the Arab neighborhoods, along with his neverending attempts to keep the Jewish residents in Beit Yehonatan, despite all the court and legal advisers’ rulings.
Nevertheless, Barkat and his advisers tried hard, up to the last moment before the last city council meeting opened (just before Yom Kippur), to find a solution that would satisfy all the parties. But they did not succeed. The last proposal was actually quite interesting in Meretz’s eyes.
According to sources within the party, Barkat agreed to launch a three-year plan for the Arab neighborhoods, according to which there would be no demolitions except in cases of illegal constructions on roads or public structures, as well as a comprehensive program of construction and granting of permits.
One may ask, “So why didn’t this proposal, which sounds almost like a Meretz plan, help pave Alalu’s way back to the coalition?” Indeed, Alalu and his peers, Meir Margalit and Laura Wharton, did appreciate this plan’s positive potential. But, alas, it was too late.
“The proposal reached us a few minutes before the opening of the city council session during which, according to the rules, Alalu was supposed to be named the new chairman of the comptroller’s committee,” explained Margalit. (The position was held until last week by city council member Meir Turgeman, the only representative of the opposition on the city council since the last elections. According to the rules, only the head of the largest party can be the head of this committee.
Thus, upon moving from the coalition to the opposition benches, Meretz was given the position instead of Turgeman, who is a one-man party.) “So?” we ask.
“Well, it seems that Barkat didn’t realize that in Meretz we don’t have one boss who decides for everyone. We have to bring such a decision to the board of the party and wait for their approval and eventually take a vote on it. It takes more than five minutes, but that’s the world of politics, not hi-tech,” concludes Margalit with a hint of sarcasm.
And Alalu? Well, since then he has already managed to call a first session of the comptroller’s committee. After all, he served at its head during Lupolianski’s time.