Divided it falls

Nir Barkat, not known for his views on national politics, speaks to 'In Jerusalem' about his recently launched ad campaign against dividing the capital.

nir barkat 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
nir barkat 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A little more than four years ago, Nir Barkat, the young millionaire, entered the local political arena. During his campaign, Barkat spoke about Jerusalem as a city that would succeed (Jerusalem Will Succeed later became the name of his party in the city council), and assured voters that he would only be involved in local issues. In the years since, Mayor Uri Lupolianski was elected, Barkat became the leader of the opposition and some of the members of his party split into another list, claiming they did not with to be associated with a political party. Barkat, once a member of Likud, moved over to Kadima and headed the party's 2006 election campaign in Jerusalem. Now Barkat is preparing for the next municipal election, convinced that Lupolianski's term has wiped out the last trace of sympathy that accompanied him on his way from Yad Sarah to Kikar Safra. But it seems that the biggest change in Barkat's situation is his recent involvement in national politics. When Vice Premier Haim Ramon (Kadima) announced a proposal to divide Jerusalem as part of a final-status agreement with the Palestinian Authority, Barkat threatened to leave Kadima, though he is still currently a member. He has since launched an international advertising campaign against any future division of the city. In Jerusalem spoke with Barkat about the campaign, "Jerusalem should be strengthened, not divided." What happened to the candidate who cared about local issues, like education and street cleaning? Nothing has changed. I always said that I was against any division of the city. True, you were asked about this in the past, but it never became a major issue in your campaign. What happened? Vice Premier Haim Ramon, that's what happened. When I heard about his plan - and I was the first to go public on this - I decided I had to fight back because I still, more than ever, think that Jerusalem should be strengthened and not divided. Have you tried to talk about this with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert? Yes, I asked for a meeting on the issue, but it didn't work out. Why do you think it's such a bad idea? After all, according to Ramon's plan and Olmert's clarifications afterward, we're talking about giving up remote areas, where few Jews visit, that influence the demographic picture and perhaps even constitute a security threat. I care very much about the demographic issue, but I do not see it that way. What we have to do is to develop the city's economy - that is the only way to strengthen it. But still, isn't this moving away from the local issues with which you promised to be involved? Not at all. It's all about Jerusalem, even if it's politics. I am not saying one word about Ramon's plans or Olmert's decisions regarding the Annapolis conference. I am strictly concerned about Jerusalem, and that is exactly what I have sought to do since I stepped into local politics. So you are not afraid of the demographic forecast and you don't think that Ramon's plan could at least partially solve it? Every concession in my eyes is what we call a policy of burying our heads in the sand, and hence a mistake. I say, let's figure out different models of how we should work together, let's think how we can bring prosperity to the people of east Jerusalem. And let me tell you one more thing: They, the Arab merchants, prefer to deal with someone like me, who says loud and clear what my positions are, than all the others who stutter and make them feel uncertain about their future. People are afraid of the demographic forecast and politicians try to suggest solutions. What's wrong with that? Because these are not answers. They are merely utterances and you do not build a policy on utterances, it just doesn't work. And there is more: when you project such uncertainty, it has a terrible impact on governmental decisions. If parts of Jerusalem are to be handed over, why should the government invest money here? What we need are financial and political fortifications and not irresponsible declarations regarding plans to divide this city. And regarding the so-called "remote quarters," I think we should stop seeing things only in a short-term context, and begin, instead, to think in terms of centuries from now. Even I can remember Jerusalem in different days, when I was a child in the Six Day War, and what came afterward. Jerusalem is not a city to be considered in terms of a few years. To whom is this campaign addressed? Is it for the people of Jerusalem who, for the most part, do not visit these particular quarters? My campaign is aimed at the decision-makers in the highest spheres of government. I want them to understand that they are in the wrong direction, and to make the right switch. I aim at the [political] Center, at those who are Olmert's constituency, so that he and his advisers will realize that this is wrong. And above all, I want them to understand that what is most urgent is to invest huge sums of money in Jerusalem and not to waste time and energy on splitting it. Are you still a member of Kadima? Kadima is a means, not an end. I belong to the center-right and I joined Kadima to influence government decisions in the direction I believe is right for us. That said, if Kadima decides to work toward dividing Jerusalem, I will leave immediately. What do you think of Lupolianski's latest statements on this issue? It seems you have convinced him, at least. I welcome every step aimed at the best for Jerusalem. If the mayor is sincere, I more than welcome his declarations, which by the way, came after I launched my campaign.