(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
In a sharply-worded letter, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not following through on his pledge to provide emergency funding for the beleaguered capital.
Barkat’s missive issued late Sunday night followed broken down talks with the Finance Ministry, coupled by a precipitous drop in tourism and commerce in the city following weeks of terrorist attacks and dramatically heightened security.
It also came amid talk that Barkat could challenge Netanyahu in the next general election, perhaps running against him in Likud.
“The end has come for public words and warnings about the importance and status of Jerusalem,” Barkat wrote. “It is time for action. Continuing to ignore Jerusalem’s needs will be a victory for terror.”
The mayor asserted that the Finance Ministry has abdicated its responsibility to the capital for a second time since last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, which also decimated the city’s economy.
“This year, once again, we have reached a situation in which the capital of Israel is forced to struggle against the Finance Ministry in order to receive the reasonable budget that it deserves,” the letter said.
“The Finance Ministry has refrained from supporting and strengthening Jerusalem, granting it only the most minimal budget. Strengthening the city is not only the concern and desire of its residents – it is the most important national goal.”
Barkat continued: “I would expect the Finance Ministry to aid the capital... to strengthen the city, without forcing us to repeatedly beg for Jerusalem’s sake.”
To resolve the impasse, Barkat proposed that Netanyahu personally intercede on three measures to help support the capital, including allocating an additional NIS 400 million to the 2016 budget; approving an emergency aid package to foundering businesses; and implementing a previously agreed upon five-year plan to strengthen the city.
The mayor added he is troubled that the lack of aid is occurring “while Jerusalem confronts a great security challenge, and is undergoing a wave of terror harming its economy and altering life in the city.”
The result, he noted, has a direct impact on “the ability of business owners to support themselves, to draw visitors, and of course, to protect and ensure the quality of life of all of its residents.”
“Let us not endanger the continued growth, rapid development, and historical changes that we have begun,” Barkat cautioned. “The message must be loud and clear – precisely during these hard times: The government must come together and decisively increase its support for Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu’s office responded that the government was investing billions of shekels in developing Jerusalem in an unprecedented manner and pace. The Prime Minister’s Office listed multiple line item allocations to the city as well as development of the city’s new train station and other infrastructure projects.
Sources close to Netanyahu blamed the letter Barkat sent on his national political aspirations.
They accused Barkat of leaking the letter to Channel 2 to air during its prime time newscast.
“Jerusalem and its mayor have a listening ear in the Prime Minister’s Office that is backed up by concrete plans and funding,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “That is why the letter is so shocking.”
Likud activists and political reporters were sent anonymous text messages Monday from someone calling himself, “TrueLikud,” attacking the mayor.
“Nir Barkat is shameless,” one of the texts said. “He is busy with politics, not Jerusalem. He is a peon of Eyal Arad [Barkat’s strategist and a longtime nemesis of Netanyahu.]" Another text noted that Barkat was registering new members to Likud even though he himself had not joined. It accused him of bringing Leftists into the party. The message mocked Barkat’s hi-tech background.
“Likud is a home, not a business for an exit,” the message said.
Knesset Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem, a veteran critic of Barkat, convened a committee meeting Monday on how the city uses its government funding. The committee called upon the State Comptroller’s office to investigate Barkat.
“The city receives a special grant of NIS 450,” Amsalem said. “Instead of replacing classes in temporary structures and fixing unsafe parks, he expanded the city’s staff by 30 percent.”
Barkat sent a low level city bureaucrat to respond to the charges. Budget Authority deputy director Shmuelik Zeligman told the committee Barkat was building 2000 classrooms and investing NIS 40 million annually in fixing parks.