Jerusalem Mayor Spars With City Lawyer Over Demolition Orders

Barkat and city's legal adviser disagree on plan to allow penalties for those who violate building codes.

A dispute has erupted in recent days between Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the municipality's legal adviser over Barkat's plan to allow the city government to penalize individuals who violate building codes, a step that will effectively allow political figures to circumvent the court system.

After the adviser, Yossi Havilio, filed his legal opinion on the matter, Barkat announced that next week he would file a recommendation that the local planning and construction council appoint a subcommittee to offer recommendations on "the feasibility of issuing orders to demolish or seal [buildings], as well as the need to advise the attorney general on changing the [construction] enforcement policy."

The opinion stated that the planning council should launch new plans for the area in Silwan known as King's Garden and the eastern slopes of the hill on which the East Jerusalem neighborhood sits.

The plan was mentioned this week in connection with the release of information on construction tenders for hundreds of housing units in Jewish areas of East Jerusalem. The program includes adding floors to Jewish-owned buildings in Silwan to make them four stories high, double the two-story limit currently in place.

The decision is expected to delay the implementation of orders to vacate and shutter a seven-story building built by the right-wing non-profit organization Ateret Cohanim in the heart of predominantly Palestinian Silwan.

Havilio's report, obtained by Haaretz, stated that the central clauses in the mayor's decision "violate the letter and spirit of the law, the explicit ruling of the Supreme Court and the clear instructions of the attorney general."

The legal adviser also stated that transferring authority for enforcing building regulations to public officials is both illegal and difficult to carry out.

Deputy mayor Yosef Pepe Alalu (Meretz) said the decision to transfer authority for enforcing building codes to politicians is similar to giving them jurisdiction over criminal enforcement.

Alalu said that unfortunately, he was the only local council member who expressed opposition to the proposal last week, a proposal he believes severely undermines the rule of law.