Kollek, 82, fails at bid for seventh term


November 03, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau Contributing writer Danna Bethlehem in Jerusalem assisted with this article.

JERUSALEM -- Teddy Kollek, for 28 years the gruff but twinkling-eye symbol of Jerusalem, lost his job as mayor yesterday to a former minister of the right-wing Likud bloc.

Voters considered Mr. Kollek, 82, too old for a seventh term. The outcome also reflected the increasingly conservative political character of Jerusalem.

Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's prime minister, said the vote reflected badly on the national government's efforts to reach accommodation with Palestinians.

"This will certainly arouse a non-positive echo for Israel's peace efforts," he said.

Ehud Olmert, 47, clinched the Jerusalem mayoral victory with TC last-minute political deal, persuading a Jewish ultra-Orthodox candidate to withdraw in return for a written guarantee of several key city government posts.

Arabs boycott election

Arab voters in East Jerusalem, who could have tipped the vote to Mr. Kollek, largely boycotted the election, even though his opponent was considered an anathema to Arab interests.

"I am afraid for Jerusalem," said Michel, 42, an East Jerusalem Arab who would not give his last name, as he stood outside the polls last night. He motioned to a group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths who had arrived to jeer Kollek supporters. "We will have more like that. There will be no peace."

Municipal elections held in 158 cities of Israel yesterday breathed some life into the opposition Likud, which lost the national elections last year and has shown recent signs of collapse.

Although most of the races were decided on local issues, Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu boasted that "Likud did not crash . . . it gained strength."

The mayoral election in Tel Aviv, which Prime Minister Rabin had cast as a test of his Labor Party's peace initiatives, was too close to call early this morning.

With 31 per cent of the vote counted, the Likud candidate, Knesset member Ronni Milo, led, 48 percent to 42 percent.

The Labor Party, which controls 33 municipalities, had hoped to gain some at the expense of the Likud, which controls 56. But the focus was on the race in Jerusalem.

Mr. Kollek was known worldwide as an indefatigable booster and fund-raiser for Jerusalem, and a voice of moderation in the tense city.

A barrel-chested immigrant from Vienna, he was involved in the politics of Israel and Zionism from long before the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.

In 1965, he was elected mayor of Jerusalem when half of Jerusalem was held by Jordanian troops.

Kept city calm

Many credit him with keeping relative calm in Jerusalem -- often through bluster and his steamroller personality -- in the difficult years since the walls between Arabs and Jews were torn down.

He won only 41 percent of the vote yesterday, compared to 55 percent for Mr. Olmert, according to usually reliable exit polls. First official returns this morning gave identical results.

Mr. Kollek conceded defeat at his campaign headquarters shortly before midnight. "I'm very sorry for Jerusalem and its inhabitants, who will have to shoulder the future," he said. "The path that Jerusalem is going now is not the correct path."

"I think that those who did not come to vote were the ones who determined the matter," he said, apparently referring to the low turnout and the Arab boycott. "We will see how they live with their consciences."

No political concessions

Mr. Olmert told Army Radio that his victory will bring a "fresher and more dynamic leadership" to Jerusalem.

He insisted that "the religious status quo won't change." And he said of Arabs of East Jerusalem, "I will not talk to them about political concessions, but I will treat them fairly, honestly and justly."

There are about 150,000 Arabs in Jerusalem -- 30 percent of the population.

Admittedly tired, Mr. Kollek earlier this year had balked at running for another five-year term. But he relented under pressure from Labor Party supporters, who feared the consequences of a Likud victory in Jerusalem.

The campaign was often nasty. Mr. Olmert, formerly the health minister under the national Likud government, harped on Mr. Kollek's age. Supporters of the mayor charged that Mr. Olmert was corrupt.

Mr. Kollek warned that Mr. Olmert would ignite new conflict between Jewish settlers and Arab residents, a conflict Mr. Kollek had worked hard to avoid. He said Mr. Olmert would "turn the city into a battlefield."

Although Jewish suburbs have sprawled and encircled Arab neighborhoods with Mr. Kollek's encouragement during his tenure, he tenaciously fought attempts by militant Jews to move into Arab communities.

Mr. Olmert has vowed that Jews may live wherever they want under his administration. Both Arabs and Jews claim Jerusalem as their capital. The Likud government of Menachem Begin formally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980.

7% turnout in Arab areas

Arab voters boycotted the polls to show their continuing rejection of Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. Only 7 percent of the eligible voters cast a ballot in Arab areas yesterday.

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