Barkat to quit Kadima if PM keeps negotiating on J'lem

Concedes that he was uncertain he would be able to persuade Olmert to change his views.

nir barkat 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
nir barkat 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat said Thursday that he was "certainly planning" to bolt the ruling Kadima Party if the government does not take the issue of Jerusalem off the agenda of peace talks with the Palestinians. The threat by the city opposition leader, who has positioned himself increasingly rightward over the last year, comes eight months before the mayoral elections and as a potential secular rival of Barkat's in the race for mayor, Mickey Levy, decided not to run. Barkat, a self-made hi-tech millionaire who ran as an independent in the last mayoral elections, joined Kadima two years ago and was named the head of Kadima's Jerusalem campaign headquarters. But over the last year he has increasingly found himself at odds with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government over the future of Jerusalem. Recently, he has been at the forefront of a nonprofit campaign against the division of Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, an idea which was floated by Vice Premier Haim Ramon, a close confidant of Olmert. "If the issue of Jerusalem is not taken off the agenda, I certainly plan to leave the party," Barkat told The Jerusalem Post. Barkat, who has weighed quitting the party for months amid his ongoing attempts to influence party officials against any territorial concessions in the city, has said that talk of a future division of Jerusalem posed an "existential threat" to the city's future. He suggested that there was still more pressure he could exert on the party, but conceded that he was uncertain he would be able to persuade Olmert to change his views. His long-awaited decision on whether to quit the party - which is seen as an attempt to court the right wing Zionist camp - comes as former Jerusalem police chief Levy decided not to run in the upcoming mayoral race. A Kadima official said that the party's platform was "clear" about maintaining the "unity of Jerusalem," Ramon's comments notwithstanding. Last month, in a further sign that his days in the party were numbered, Barkat said that a decision to freeze building in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem would make Olmert the first Israeli prime minister since the end of the British mandate in 1948 to enact "a White Paper" for the capital, a reference to the 1939 British document which limited Jewish immigration to Palestine.