The Bear of Jerusalem

November 05, 1993

The reasons for Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek's re-election defeat is in the eye of the beholder. Those who are eager for peace between Israelis and Arabs point to his age, his open reluctance to run a seventh time, his nearly three decades in office. Those who oppose it broadcast Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin's unfortunate description of the local contest as a referendum on the peace initiative and describe it as a rejection of Mr. Kollek's attempts at even-handed municipal government in the city cherished by both faiths.

There is truth in all of the above. At 82, Mr. Kollek was plainly tired, no longer the energetic bear of a man who was a cross between old Zionists like Golda Meir and big city mayors like Baltimore's Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., who understood that getting streets paved and garbage collected was the essence of politics. Most remarkable about the ardent Zionist was his insistence on treating Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem, if not quite as first-class citizens, at least as deserving of more municipal resources than most Israeli politicians would contemplate until recently.

Extremists on both sides of the bitter dispute tipped the balance against Mr. Kollek. A last-minute deal by his opponent, Ehud Olmert, prompted a third candidate who represented ultra-Orthodox Jews to withdraw. Presumably those votes went to Mr. Olmert, a leader in the hard-line Likud party of former Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir. Hardly any Arabs turned out to vote, though some Palestinian leaders urged them to support Mr. Kollek. It wasn't the first time short-sighted Arabs have strengthened the hands of hard-line Israelis.

Mayors don't make national policy in Israel any more than they do in this country. But they can abet or sabotage it in many ways. By demonstrating that Arabs and Jews could live in the same city with limited friction under a benign municipal government, Mr. Kollek gave hope to adherents of the peace movement. His sound defeat is thus a setback to the advocates of negotiation, in practical terms as well as symbolically.

Mr. Olmert, a confidante of Mr. Shamir, immediately reiterated his intention of encouraging Jewish settlement in predominantly Arab neighborhoods. That complicates Mr. Rabin's talks with the Palestinians, but it does not fatally undermine them. Jerusalem has always been the biggest stumbling block en route to permanent peace. It is now a little larger.

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