Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s failure to form a government proved that all roads do in fact lead to Jerusalem. It was the issue of Jerusalem that deadlocked and ultimately scuttled Livni’s coalition negotiations with Shas, which demanded that she pledge not to negotiate the partition of the city with the Palestinians. Livni refused to make such a pledge. And so the negotiations failed and new elections will soon be called.
In refusing to agree to Shas’s demand, Livni made clear that partitioning the city – that is, giving the Palestinians sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the Arab neighborhoods – is so central to her preferred foreign policy that she could not budge on the issue despite her obvious desire to take up residence in the Prime Minister’s Office. Moreover, it showed that she believes that the bulk of her potential voters hail from the post-Zionist Left. To win their support, she had to make clear that she is one of them.
In making Jerusalem, rather than welfare payments the wedge issue in their negotiations with Livni, Shas’s leaders demonstrated their recognition of the fact that defending Israeli sovereignty over the capital city is more important to their voters than increasing welfare. Had they entered a Livni government without securing a pledge to defend Jerusalem, Shas would have been hard pressed to compete with the Likud in the coming elections.
Due to the centrality of Jerusalem in Livni’s failed negotiations with Shas, it is apparent that maintaining or ending sovereignty over united Jerusalem will be the central issue of the coming elections. If the Left can convince a sufficient number of voters that a united Jerusalem is a drain on the country’s resources or that it is impossible to enforce Israeli law among an increasingly lawless and irredentist Arab population, then it will have a fighting chance of winning the elections.
If the Right is able to demonstrate that the problems that afflict Jerusalem are little different from those suffered by mixed Jewish-Arab cities throughout the country and are a consequence of government and municipal mismanagement and are therefore manageable, then it will win the elections.
TODAY THE problems that Jerusalem faces stem from its unique demographic character, municipal mismanagement and the clear if previously unstated intention of successive leftist governments to eventually withdraw from the Temple Mount and from the city’s Arab neighborhoods.
Jerusalem’s ranking today as the poorest city in the country redounds to the fact that that the majority of its residents are Arab and haredi. These two sectors by and large do not work and do not pay municipal taxes. As a consequence, the municipal tax burden falls on the plurality of Jerusalemites who work and pay taxes – mainly religious Zionists and non-observant Jews. Due to the unfair tax burden, recent years have seen a steady stream of the city’s productive residents migrating to surrounding communities where the tax burden is more evenly distributed and municipal services are consequently better.
Beyond the chronic problem of under-collection of taxes, Jerusalem suffers from problems of lawlessness among its Arab residents not unlike the problems that affect all cities with mixed Jewish and Arab populations. This Arab lawlessness is facilitated on a national level by the government’s refusal to order the police and the State Attorney’s Office to enforce and apply the law equally to Arab citizens.
Jerusalem also suffers from unique problems with lawlessness and underdevelopment. These problems have been created by successive governments that have silently encouraged the partition of the city by both enabling the PA to field militiamen in the city’s Arab neighborhoods and discouraging and indeed prohibiting Jewish building in areas the government foresees being transferred to Palestinian sovereignty. These manufactured problems have retarded development and expansion plans. They have also artificially raised housing prices for the city’s Jewish residents.
One of the chief responsibilities of Palestinian militia that operate in the city has been to enforce the PA’s anti-Semitic law which defines the sale of land to Jews as a capital offense. Since 1994, dozens of Arab Jerusalemites have been executed by these men and their Fatah masters in Ramallah and Jericho for the "crime" of selling land to Jews. The government has made little effort to prosecute the offenders. Since 2004, when prime minister Ariel Sharon forced internal security minister Uzi Landau to resign due to Landau’s opposition to Sharon’s sharp turn to the left, the police have not been ordered to rein in the activities of the militia.
Largely as a consequence of this state of affairs, Jews are prevented from living in half of the city. The scarcity of housing options for Jews is what has caused an artificial increase in housing prices that has compelled young families to migrate out of the city.
Another factor contributing to the scarcity of land for Jewish building is the government’s refusal to permit the building of new neighborhoods in areas like E-1 near Mount Scopus. Commerce is stifled, among other reasons, because the government has refrained from ordering the IDF to reassert control over Atarot municipal airport and industrial zone after the Palestinians began murdering businessmen, shooting passing motorists and threatening air traffic in 2000. In essence, as the building of the separation fence within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries shows clearly, the government has been effectively enacting the partition of the city for the past several years without ever acknowledging this fact.
The government’s effective support for partition is perhaps nowhere more obvious than on the Temple Mount. There, the Islamic Wakf not only incites for jihad with impunity, it is also systematically destroying the remains of the Second Temple with impunity. The abject abandonment of Judaism’s holiest site by successive governments has facilitated not only the radicalization of Jerusalem Arabs from surrounding neighborhoods, like Silwan, it has also emboldened global jihadists to believe that Jerusalem – and Israel with it – will soon fall into their hands.
IN LIGHT of these difficult realities, it is a relief that Jerusalemites are likely to elect Nir Barkat as their new mayor on November 11. While the mayor of Jerusalem has only a limited capacity to solve the unique, politically-driven maladies endangering the city, he does have considerable power to solve the problems that are similar to those impacting other cities nationwide. He can compel residents to pay their municipal taxes. He can enforce building codes. And he can use his power and influence to facilitate new building while improving municipal infrastructure to encourage economic growth and population expansion.
Barkat is a 48-year-old Jerusalemite. He served as a company commander in the paratroopers, and then went on to make a fortune in the hi-tech sector. In 1999, he and his wife became active philanthropists supporting various Zionist educational causes related to the city. In 2003 he retired from his business ventures to run for mayor. His party, Yerushalayim Tatzliah (Jerusalem will succeed), won 43 percent of the vote. Barkat has served for five years as the head of the opposition in the city council. In 2005, he joined Kadima.
Last year, he broke with Kadima when he discovered that the government was conducting negotiations on the partition of Jerusalem with Fatah leaders. Emerging as a staunch defender of the city’s unity, he was one of the prominent leaders of the national opposition movement which arose to demand that the government end its negotiations on the issue.
As a mayoral candidate, Barkat has assembled a candidates list for his party comprised of members of the Likud, the Gil Pensioners Party, the Green Party and Labor. They have committed themselves to a common platform pledged to defend and facilitate continued Israeli sovereignty over the entire city.
In a recent conversation, Barkat explained to me that enforcing law and order in the Arab neighborhoods while encouraging local, non-jihadist neighborhood councils to take a leadership role in their communities is one of his primary goals.
"Today we have a crazy situation in which the number of municipal inspectors assigned to a neighborhood is inversely proportional to the degree of building code violations. We have four times more municipal inspectors assigned to Jewish neighborhoods than to Arab neighborhoods which have four times more building violations. I will reverse this situation as mayor."
Barkat also intends to push hard to build a new neighborhood for young people in E-1. To date, building in E-1 has been blocked by the government which as bowed to US pressure not to build in the strategically critical area that connects Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim.
Barkat also intends to encourage economic growth in the city by developing its tourist sector. He correctly identifies projects like the City of David as sites with massive tourist potential. He believes that the proper way to achieve his goal of bringing 10 million tourists a year is to develop tourist attractions that link the Old City to surrounding areas like Gush Etzion.
Barkat has a vision of setting up a council of metropolitan Jerusalem that will involve the heads of the Jewish communities around the city in its overall development plans. This he believes will encourage business growth and lead to more rational long-term urban planning and infrastructure development.
Barkat’s headquarters bustle with campaign workers. Most of them are in their early 20s. They hail from both non-observant and national religious backgrounds. Their enthusiasm for his candidacy is a product of his chairmanship of the non-profit Ruah Hadasha (new spirit) organization that helps students find post-university job opportunities in Jerusalem and encourages student involvement in the city. Yakir Segev, who founded and directs Ruah Hadasha, is one of the senior members of Barkat’s party.
There is no guarantee, of course, that Barkat will be able to succeed in contending with the daunting challenges facing the city. But there is no doubt that if elected, he will bring a new integrity and commitment to the office and a welcome vision for Jerusalem that is both attractive and eminently achievable. Indeed, it is the success of Barkat’s vision that will put paid the notion that united Jerusalem is ungovernable.
If as the polls indicate, Barkat wins the mayoral race in two weeks, the overwhelming majority of Israelis who are committed to safeguarding Israeli sovereignty over the eternal capital of the Jewish people will find a formidable ally in city hall.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.