Benjamin Netanyahu and Nir Barkat.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
“I will continue to work with the prime minister to further the interests of the people of Jerusalem, but will not report to Ze’ev Elkin,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said on Wednesday, following Elkin’s appointment earlier this week as Jerusalem affairs minister.
Noting that the prime minister and Elkin agree that such a ministry is counterproductive – as evidenced by pronounced tensions between Barkat and Naftali Bennett, who headed the office before the previous government collapsed – the mayor said the three had jointly agreed to eliminate the ministry as recently as Jerusalem Day.
During Bennett’s tumultuous tenure, he and Barkat could not agree on appointments or municipal budget allocations for more than a year, resulting in the mayor naming himself temporary director-general of the ministry to ensure the city could continue to function.
“Why do we need a Jerusalem Affairs Ministry here?” Barkat said during a phone interview. “They have no accountability and no responsibility. The only thing they can do is interfere with what we’re doing. So I said to the prime minister to please stop this, because it interferes with municipal projects and the national government.”
Moreover, during his February campaign for reelection, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he would not appoint another Jerusalem affairs minister to avert hindering Barkat’s handling of the city, before reneging on his promise on Monday night.
According to multiple sources, Netanyahu decided to give the Likud MK, who is also the minister of Immigrant Absorption, the additional portfolio to compensate him for giving up the Strategic Affairs Ministry to the Likud’s No. 2, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
Angrily dismissing the appointment as a cynical “consolation prize,” Barkat described the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry as a “useless, ridiculous ministry.”
“Why have ministries that do nothing and add more layers of bureaucracy?” he said, emphasizing that just prior to accepting the appointment, Elkin himself said he would remove the very ministry he now intends to lead.
“He was against the ministry and now he’s for it,” Barkat said. “We do not report to him and he is not going to govern the relationship between the municipality and other ministries… I don’t accept this move and [Elkin] knows exactly why this is a bad deal.”
While Elkin said he did not want to comment on the situation on Wednesday, on Tuesday he told Israel Radio that he is happy with Netanyahu’s offer of the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, noting that most governments have had such a ministry.
“I understand Nir Barkat wanted to be Jerusalem affairs minister himself but it didn’t work out,” Elkin said. “I hope the conflict will calm down and we will be able to work hand in hand. I intend to put our conflict aside and work together. Cooperation for Jerusalem is above personal anger and emotions.”
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