Jerusalem Mayor Fires Right-wing Councilor Over Arab Construction Plan Dispute

Aryeh King accused Barkat of encouraging 'de-facto separation' of capital by pushing forward plan to expand Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Aryeh King speaking in Jerusalem.
Aryeh King speaking in Jerusalem.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced right-wing city councilor Aryeh King would be stripped of all municipal positions and fired from the city coalition, due to a petition he filed against the municipality on the subject of the approval of a construction plan for an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

The British-born councilor's party, United Jerusalem, won two seats in the recent municipal elections under the banner of "Jewifying East Jerusalem."

King claimed the plan, which calls for building 2,200 homes in the Arav al-Swahara neighborhood, would lead to the creation of "urban continuity" between Arab parts of East Jerusalem, and accused Barkat of encouraging the city's "de-facto separation."

On the day of the plan's approval, King filed a petition in the capital's district court against the Local Building and Planning Committee, the Jerusalem municipality, and Barkat himself, in which he claimed Barkat hid essential statistics regarding the construction plan from committee members.

Barkat's inclusion of King's party in the municipal coalition was cited by left-wing party Meretz as the reason they decided to not partake in it. The two other pluralistic-minded parties that won seats on the city's council were criticized for agreeing to sign a coalition agreement with King.

According to the coalition agreement, King served as head of the city's emergency security committee and also participated in the planning committee's meetings.

"A coalition member cannot have his cake and eat it, too," Barkat wrote to King in a letter sent Friday. A member of the coalition cannot "both take part in leading city policymaking and attack it through court petitions," wrote the mayor, who added that the move is unrelated to the essence of King's complaints, but only to the method in which he chose to express it.

Barkat has held a longstanding policy of forbidding coalition members from filing petitions against the municipality. During his first stint as mayor, Barket fired Councilor Rachel Azari due to a petition she filed against the municipality regarding gender-discrimination policy.

Plan pushed through despite efforts

Barkat and Deputy Mayor Koby Kahlon, who chairs the building and planning committee, had been trying to get this plan passed for several years. It was repeatedly blocked by right-wing activists together with Haredi city councilmen. Following legal action by neighborhood residents, with the help of the Hebrew University’s International Human Rights Legal Clinic and attorney Ziad Kawar, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the city council to debate the plan and make a decision.

Right-wingers, among them King and Mati Dan, head of the Ateret Cohanim association, which sponsors numerous initiatives to purchase Arab properties in East Jerusalem and settle Jews there, tried to get the plan voted down. King even posted a Facebook status threatening to bolt the municipal coalition if the plan was approved. In the end, however, it passed with the support of Kahlon, Yerushalmim representative Tamir Nir, and Meretz councilor Yosef Alalu.

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