RAMALLAH, July 6 (JMCC) - Palestinian residents of Jerusalem
may be in for a positive change, as an Israeli opponent of house demolitions and an advocate for their rights takes the helm in city government.
Meir Margalit, a representative of the left-wing party Meretz
and founder of a key organization fighting the demolition of Palestinian homes, took over planning for the eastern half of Jerusalem on Sunday as part of a deal with the mayor.
Margalit is wary of his new role, noting criticism that he is legitimizing the city's right-wing policies in an interview
with the Jerusalem Post
. At the same time, he hopes he will be able to change some current policies that he sees as patently unfair.
“It would be really irresponsible of me not to utilize this historical opportunity,” he said. “The mayor hasn’t changed his politics, he didn’t change his ideology, he invited us [Meretz] because he needed to – that’s how politics works.”
The first action Margalit wants to pursue is to scrutinize the current budget and determine exactly how much of the budget is earmarked for east Jerusalem, in order to raise it to a level that more closely mirrors the city’s demography.
“The best estimate is that 10% of the city’s budget goes to east Jerusalem,” he said, noting that no one knew how much money was actually destined for the eastern part of the city. But it should be closer to the 30%, since Arabs in east Jerusalem account for more than a third of the city’s residents, he explained.
He also wants to promote more projects such as the recently failed initiative in Al Suhawra, which would have retroactively legalized and given permits for 2,500 housing units.
Palestinians in Jerusalem suffer from restrictions on land that prevent them from building, and house demolitions carried out when they build illegally. Public funding in the city often goes to developing Israeli settlements.
Margalit has refused to take up the portfolio of settlers in East Jerusalem and another council member will adopt those issues.