Lion: If elected holy city mayor I will strip Meretz of responsibility for east Jerusalem

Current portfolio head calls it ‘sour grapes,’ says candidate tried to get party to join coalition.

Moshe Lion 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Moshe Lion campaign)
Moshe Lion 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Moshe Lion campaign)
As the contentious Jerusalem mayoral race draws close to the October 22 finish line, candidate Moshe Lion said that if elected he would take the east Jerusalem portfolio away from the Meretz Party and either hand it over to a right-wing party or expunge it entirely.
“One of my first acts as mayor will be to take away the east Jerusalem municipal portfolio from the hands of Meretz,” said Lion Sunday. “This portfolio was given by [incumbent Mayor Nir] Barkat to [councilman] Meir Margalit of Meretz, who adamantly stands against Israeli sovereignty over the ‘Green Line.’” The candidate added that by giving the “extreme Left” power over east Jerusalem, Barkat’s stated rightwing credentials remained highly questionable.
“It is absolutely absurd that a person who rejects Israel’s presence in more than half of Jerusalem is in charge of what happens there,” he said. “As mayor I will not give power to the extreme-Left over east Jerusalem,” said Lion.
“That is an absolute red line for me,” Lion continued.
Asked what would become of the portfolio, a source from the Lion campaign, who requested anonymity, said Sunday that if it is not given to a right-wing party, it should be eliminated all together.
“If it does remain, it must be kept in the hands of someone who has the interest of maintaining Jerusalem as a united city at heart,” the source said. “The only other option is expunging the portfolio entirely, because it recognizes a division of Jerusalem, which is a problem in and of itself.”
Reached for comment Sunday evening, Margalit described Lion’s rhetoric as sour grapes resulting from repeated failed attempts to get Meretz to join his coalition since announcing his candidacy in late July.
“It is interesting to note that in the last week [Lion] tried to convince [Meretz] to support him,” said Margalit. “If Meretz is so bad for him, then why was he suggesting that we be part of his coalition?”
Margalit added that overtures to his party ended only after the party, along with Labor Party leader Shelley Yacimovich, recently made it clear they were endorsing Barkat.
“Meretz has nothing to do with the coalition with Lion, so the problem will not be what happens to Meretz, the problem will be what happens to the city if someone like Lion is elected,” said Margalit.
“We don’t care about Lion’s declarations, because we know he has no chance of winning and that he will be sent back to Givatayim.”
Indeed, according to a Ma’agar Mohot poll published Friday on the cover of Ma’ariv, the issue may be moot, as it forecasted that Barkat will easily defeat his Likud Beytenu challenger.
The poll of 523 respondents taken Wednesday and Thursday – representing a sample of the adult population in the capital, with a margin of error of 4.5 percent – found that 42% support Barkat, while only 14% back Lion.
Still, some 43% of respondents declared themselves undecided two weeks before the election.
That number is thought to include a large percentage of haredim, whose rabbis have reportedly not yet dictated which candidate to support.
Meanwhile, Channel 2 reported Saturday night that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had sent letters of endorsement to all 43 Likud mayoral candidates in the municipal races, except Lion, who was director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office during Netanyahu’s first term.
Netanyahu is considered close to Barkat, who recently named a junction on Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin highway for the prime minister’s late father, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu.
“I have no doubt that the prime minister will support me in the end,” Lion told Channel 2.
With respect to Meretz’s and Yacimovich’s backing of Barkat, Lion’s camp dismissed the endorsements as coming “with strings.”
“Meretz and Yacimovich’s endorsement of Barkat does not come without strings,” a source, who requested anonymity, said Sunday. “They are supporting the person they most believe will promote their plans for Jerusalem – and that is its division.”
The source added that during the last five years as mayor, Barkat has only helped the extreme-Left gain control of east Jerusalem.
“We are seeing facts on the ground being created, including a lot less demolitions of illegal Arab construction,” the source said.
“This is no coincidence and is extremely dangerous to the delicate demographic balance and the future of parts of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.”
“Jerusalem cannot afford another five years like this,” the source added.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.