- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

TEL AVIV, Israel, Feb. 16 (UPI) — Jerusalem's energetic mayor, Ehud Olmert, announced Sunday that he was quitting the job he has held for the past nine years. Olmert expects to become a prominent member in the new government that Ariel Sharon is forming.

Uri Lupolinsky, an ultra-orthodox Jew who won national acclaim for running a volunteer association that lends out medical aids from crutches to more expensive items, is to be interim mayor until the elections expected in October.

In a farewell address to the City Council, Olmert said he would submit his formal resignation to Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Monday morning. Last January, Olmert was elected to the new Knesset (parliament), and by law, he cannot be mayor and Knesset member at the same time. The new Knesset convenes Monday afternoon so he had to decide which job to keep.

He will be returning to the Knesset that he quit in 1998. During his earlier stint as a legislator, he, a Likud Party hawk, used to publicly quarrel with dovish Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, but then sit with Sarid as good friends in the Knesset members' dining room.

Sunday evening, in a clear allusion to the Palestinian intifada, Olmert told the city councilors the past two years were particularly difficult. "There were hard and painful days of shooting in Giloh," Jerusalem's southern neighborhood that came under fire from the West Bank town of Beit Jalla. He recalled residents' fears and "the scared look in the eyes of children whose homes I visited moments after the shooting."

Olmert has been a very political mayor. He pushed for the establishment of the new controversial neighborhood of Har Homa, between southern Jerusalem and Bethlehem, thereby helping encircle predominantly Arab East Jerusalem with Jewish neighborhoods. He was also sharply opposed the Palestine Liberation Organization's headquarters at the Orient House, which the government eventually closed.

"He was always focused on how to lead the Likud (party) in the 2004, 2006 elections and he was never distracted by smaller things," former opposition council member, Anat Hoffman, of the dovish Meretz Party, told United Press International.

Hoffman credited Olmert with obtaining lots of government allocations but criticized him for using it to build infrastructures that obliterate the old boundary line between Jewish West Jerusalem and the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. Roads he built and a light train route under construction straddle the former boundary lines, she said.

Olmert also spent more money than his predecessors in East Jerusalem but has no Arab on his council and has built no churches or mosques, though hundreds of synagogues have opened, she added.

Critics complain that Jerusalem is a very dirty city, and according to government statistics, is the poorest in Israel. Some 600,000 people live there. Some 220,000 to 260,000 are Palestinians and about an equal number are ultra-orthodox Jews.

The large Jewish families, whose men often study and live off government grants, and the poor Arab population, have helped make the city the poorest in Israel even though it is Israel's capital.

It is not clear what job Olmert, 57, will get in the new Cabinet. A lawyer by training, he joined the Knesset in 1973, became minister of health, and then beat Jerusalem's legendary Mayor Teddy Kollek in 1993 to become mayor.

Lupolinski, 50, has been acting mayor and will automatically replace him.

Lupolinski won the prestigious Israel Prize for establishing Yad Sara, which helps sick people. He named it after his grandmother, who was killed in the Holocaust.

A very modest man, Lupolinsky lives in a four-room apartment with 12 children, sending the boys to one room, the girls to another, keeping a bedroom for himself and his wife, and using the fourth as a living room, his spokesman confirmed.

Lupolinsky promptly moved to dispel suspicions that he would try to impose his religious convictions on the city.

"Everybody should feel this is his home," he said in his inaugural speech. "The status quo will be maintained. We shall raise the flag of patience and tolerance," he added.

"We ought to see to it that every group can live its life here peacefully and conduct its religious and cultural way of life in complete freedom. … Please don't judge a person by his dress and way of life but by his deeds," he appealed. In accordance with ultra-orthodox dress code, Lupolinski is bearded, wears a dark suit and a black skullcap.

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