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National Agenda : Jerusalem's New Mayor Is Doing the Town His Way : Hard-liner Ehud Olmert is building new Jewish housing in the east and sweeping away signs of his predecessor.

March 29, 1994|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — With a new mayor in a new city hall, "Teddy's town," as Jerusalem was known for more than 25 years, is changing fast.

Ehud Olmert, a hard-line member of Israel's former hard-line Likud government, has taken over as mayor from Teddy Kollek, the legendary "Lion of Jerusalem," and after fewer than four months this is no longer "Teddy's town."

A yeshiva--a seminary for Jewish religious studies--is being established on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, on land that Kollek's administration had allocated for an Arab girls school. Kollek saw the yeshiva as provocative in that area and had barred its construction.

A housing complex for strictly observant, haredi Orthodox Jews is being built on a hillside overlooking the Arab neighborhood of Shuafat--with accelerated construction ordered by Olmert. Another new Jewish neighborhood is planned for Ras al Amud, also in eastern Jerusalem, and construction on a third will begin soon just off the road to Bethlehem.

Discussions are under way about extension of the city's borders, already much expanded, to include the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumin, a community of 20,000, and other areas in the occupied West Bank whose incorporation into Jerusalem Kollek had resisted as complicating peace with the Palestinians.

There are other changes too.

Buses running from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim are now segregated by gender at the request of residents who felt that buses carrying both men and women offended their sense of modesty.

And a poster advertising the film "Map of the Human Heart--A Love Story" was banned by Olmert's administration because of the naked woman on it.

"Don't give me the credit or the blame for everything," Olmert said, leaning back in his chair, a cigar in hand, in the big corner office that Kollek had expected to occupy in the new City Hall near Jaffa Road and the walled Old City with a magnificent east-to-west view of Jerusalem. "But I am doing exactly what I said I would."

Olmert had made clear throughout the election campaign last year that he would act--through city planning, through establishment of new neighborhoods, through the creation of other "facts"--to ensure that Jerusalem could not again be divided, as it was between Israel and Jordan from 1948 to the 1967 Middle East War, into Jewish and Arab sectors as part of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Jerusalem is one city as far as I am concerned, and that's it," Olmert said in an interview. "The sovereign will be the state of Israel, and no one else. I am not hiding my position, and I will do everything I can within my powers as mayor to ensure this."

Although the city's status will be negotiated in future negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Olmert clearly believes that if he pushes Jewish construction into what have been Arab neighborhoods, Israel's claim to the city as the "united and eternal capital of the Jewish people" will be strengthened.

"There are very clear-cut changes in the administration of Jerusalem under Olmert," Hanna Siniora, the Palestinian editor of the weekly Jerusalem Times, commented. "The options being chosen increase friction rather than minimize it. There is a taunting attitude that says, 'We got it and we're keeping it, no matter what's right and no matter what you do.' "

This does not bother Olmert, who had not only offered a sharper, harder vision of Greater Jerusalem as Israel's capital and a Jewish city but pledged to defend it at every turn in the negotiations and in day-to-day life here.

"I do not accept the argument that compromise is the ultimate aim in every matter and on every subject," Olmert said as he took office. "We must understand the desires and needs of the other side, but it will not be possible to reach true peace at the price of concessions on the most basic core, the deepest and most essential element of the contents of our national existence."

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That hard-edged approach contrasts markedly with Kollek's vision of Jerusalem as "a light unto the nations . . . (that) should reveal in our time that it is possible for Jews, Muslims and Christians to live in harmony in this generally inflamed part of the world." To ensure a balance, Kollek carefully maintained a ratio of 72% Jews versus 28% Arabs among Jerusalem's population, which is now 550,000.

Declaring that in Jerusalem there could be no areas of Judenrein --that is, free of Jews--Olmert broke with Kollek's policy of keeping Jewish and Arab neighborhoods distinct to minimize friction. Jews will be able to build throughout eastern Jerusalem, Olmert said, describing that as "the natural path for the city's growth."

But Olmert is a realist who recognizes that retention of all of Jerusalem will mean a large Palestinian minority that will never be happy with Israeli rule--but might grow to accept it if Arab residents get equal benefits for their taxes.

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