Analysis: Will Jerusalem's mayor run for a third term, or head to the Knesset?

The Jerusalem mayor is rumored to be eying the premiership, but it remains unclear when.

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has never been a man of small ideas.
Indeed, from his success as a selfmade multi-millionaire software businessman in the private sector, to sweeping proposals to turn Jerusalem into a hi-tech economic powerhouse on par with Tel Aviv, Barkat swings for the fences whenever he’s at bat.
Nir Barkat announces he has joined the Likud party
Therefore, although he denied reports on Monday that he will run for a third term and would not elaborate on his future plans, it should surprise no one that after he joined the Likud he has his sights set on the premiership.
The question is likely not so much if, but when.
As he approaches the end of his second term as mayor to mixed reviews, many are now wondering if he will seek a third term or run for national office.
While Barkat has ostensibly played a game of cat and mouse with the press regarding his future plans, it is unlikely that his big ideas can be contained at the municipal level for another five years.
Moreover, numerous sources in city hall have indicated that his former rival, Moshe Lion, a Yisrael Beytenu rank-and-file standard bearer, is poised to take the reins from Barkat’s right-wing religious coalition.
The handoff seems all the more likely considering that Lion joined Barkat’s coalition in 2015, despite a bitter 2013 campaign. Lion has since been named head of the Community Administrations Department portfolio and its committee.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post Magazine last December, Barkat would not reveal his plans, stating that joining the Likud was little more than a logical and practical progression in his relatively nascent political career.
Asked if he has considered running for a third five-year term as mayor, Barkat replied “not yet,” adding, perhaps tellingly, that his alliance with Likud has been “better than expected.”
“I decided that after I finish a second or third term [as mayor], I will not go back to the business world,” he said. “I will stay in public service, and I would be happy to serve on the national side; whatever the public will elect me to do.”
Barkat added: “I want to take my positive experiences in Jerusalem to the national level.”
In terms of terrorism, he has shown stoicism and practicality during the capital’s darkest hours, by encouraging residents to resume their lives following deadly attacks, while working to invest hundreds of millions of shekels in better securing the city.
Following the so-called “stabbing intifada,” Barkat was instrumental in the government’s more than NIS 1 billion investment to build six new police stations in flashpoint Arab neighborhoods, install hundreds of CCTV cameras and deploy 1,200 more officers to keep crime down.
There is no question that Barkat’s right-wing philosophy and politics jibe well with Likud and that he would be a logical successor to Netanyahu, with whom he remains close. But it remains to be seen if he is ready to enter the lion’s den of national politics.
However, after serving as mayor for 10 years, Barkat, 57, a highly ambitious married father of three, will likely not want to be fenced in for five more years.
Additionally, following the appointment of Ze’ev Elkin as Jerusalem Affairs Minister in 2015, Barkat made clear that he was displeased by reporting to anyone other than the Prime Minister’s Office.
Compounded by his ongoing feud with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, with whom he has butted heads on two occasions over the size of the capital’s annual municipal budget (resulting in two successive sanitation strikes requiring the intervention of Netanyahu), it is unlikely that Barkat will want to remain in a position of dependence.
While his most ambitious economic proposals – including a sprawling multi-billion-shekel business district at the western entrance of the city, next to a hi-speed rail to Tel Aviv – will not bear fruit for years, he has nonetheless planted important seeds to reverse years of stagnation, exacerbated by high unemployment among the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab sectors.
Yes, Barkat is a man of big ideas, but the question still remains if those ideas will indeed yield a harvest, or famine.
In the meantime, all evidence suggests that a third term as mayor would be counterintuitive to a leader who prides himself on moving forward.