Capital's future takes center stage in mayoral race

Discussion over possible division of Jerusalem serves to jump-start next year's mayoral race.

Jerusalem old city 88 (photo credit: )
Jerusalem old city 88
(photo credit: )
The recent public discussion over the possible division of Jerusalem as part of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians has served to jump-start next year's mayoral race, with both the city opposition leader and the mayor condemning the plan and vowing to work to keep Jerusalem united. The debate over Jerusalem, which was brought to the fore last month with Vice Premier Haim Ramon's proposal to cede Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians as part of a peace treaty, prompted Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat to launch an international campaign against any future division of the city. Barkat, who is a member of Prime Minster Ehud Olmert's Kadima party, even toyed with the idea of leaving the party over the issue, but then held back at the last minute. His decision to begin the campaign - which was launched with a major media and advertising blitz - was seen as an attempt to court voters in the largely hawkish city. Barkat's plight to keep Jerusalem united, entitled "Jerusalem should be strengthened, not divided," has already won the support of 35,000 people from both Israel and around the world, including the respected former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen (Res.) Moshe Ya'alon, with its Internet site ( accessible in Hebrew, English and Russian. After months of virtual silence and as the head of an independent city council list not known for its unequivocal political views, Barkat, a self-made hi-tech millionaire, positioned himself at the epicenter of a campaign against the plan to divide Jerusalem, calling such a move an "existential threat" to the city's future. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who at first chose to avoid entering the public fray over the proposal - preferring, he said, actions over words - quickly found himself overshadowed by the Barkat-led campaign, which was plastered on billboards and buses throughout the city and advertised in newspapers and news Web sites. Abruptly reversing courses, Lupolianski, who is expected to seek a second term in next year's municipal elections, stepped into the dispute, stating that ceding Arab sections of Jerusalem to the Palestinians as part of a final peace treaty would be "akin to disembowelment." Lupolianski is considered the front-runner in the race if no other haredi candidates take part in the elections in a city where one-third of the Jewish population is haredi. He was not only responding to Barkat's prominent campaign, but to the hawkish sentiment of his haredi electorate which adamantly opposes any division of the city. In the meantime, Barkat is weighing his future moves in Kadima, and has pledged to bolt the party if the division of Jerusalem came up at the planned peace conference in the US. "Kadima is not a cause but a means which Barkat uses to influence the decisions of the government," his spokesman said Tuesday. Meanwhile, as both the declared and assumed mayoral candidates grapple with the lofty issues of the future borders of Jerusalem, the oft-forgotten and prosaic municipal issues such as city sanitation, infrastructure and education are likely to be short-shafted once again.