With the political and diplomatic situation in Jerusalem once again unsteady after almost a week of Arab protests, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu still has no government minister tasked with coordinating policy on the city.
The reason, sources close to the prime minister told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday, is that the position of Jerusalem Affairs Minister is being held virtual hostage by Netanyahu's dream of including the National Union in his coalition.
In the early days of the Netanyahu government, the topic of maintaining a minister - or even ministry - for Jerusalem affairs was discussed and seemed to be just around the corner, said a senior Likud government official Wednesday.
The discussion, the minister said, was so detailed as to already include a decision to provide the would-be ministry with a substantial budget that would reach sums nearly unparalleled throughout the spotty history of the portfolio's existence.
Initially, said the official, the portfolio was expected to be delivered as a secondary assignment to a top member of the ruling party's list, but the suggestion eventually disappeared from the political debate. Instead, said one official involved in the coalition negotiations, the portfolio has been placed in deep-freeze, lying in wait as a final lever for Netanyahu to pry the recalcitrant National Union out of its seats on the opposition side of the aisle.
Should the far-right party decide to join the government, said the official, National Union Chairman MK Ya'acov Katz would be granted the ministry, which would coordinate - among other topics - building and infrastructure policy throughout the city and its environs. But until that day - should it ever come - the position remains open, and no budget or coordinating team is currently in action on a national level regarding the capital.
"For this government to talk about Jerusalem and the importance of Jerusalem without placing a single minister responsible for the city isn't right. With all the complexity and sensitivity of the topic, it is inexplicable that there is no official tasked with coordinating it all," said Kadima MK Ya'akov Edry, who as a minister in July, 2006, was tasked with heading up the reestablished Ministerial Committee for Greater Jerusalem Affairs.
"There are six Likud ministers without portfolios who could hold the position, who would be eager to do so," Edry added. "It is a very respectable position, and I recommend to the prime minister that he fill it as soon as possible. Jerusalem can't wait for Mr. Ketzele [Katz], who says every day that he doesn't want to be in the government, to come around and join the coalition."
The Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs was first established in 1990 under then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who took on the portfolio himself. When Yitzhak Rabin was elected premier in 1992, he took on the ministry until his government disbanded it six months into the administration.
The Shamir administration also established a ministerial committee for Jerusalem affairs that coordinated all of the relevant groups impacting daily life in the city, ranging from the General Workers' Union to the Jerusalem Municipality, the trade bureaus and the security forces.
When the ministry was disbanded, its various roles were redistributed among other government ministries.
From 2001 until 2008, ministers-without-portfolio were given the position of overseeing Jerusalem affairs, with the list including Shas's Eli Suissa and Yisrael B'aliya's Natan Sharansky. It was under Sharansky that the non-ministry's budget reached its peak - until the sums allegedly budgeted for the position, should it be reestablished under the current administration.
A response from a government representative was unavailable by press time.â€¢