It has never been more difficult to decide whom to vote for as mayor of Jerusalem. Both leading candidates project a worrying extremism. Only one of them, Meir Porush, appears to be someone who can lead the city; the other, Nir Barkat, might be able to run the municipality. A lot depends on the candidates' ability to get funding from the state. It seems like Porush the politician has a better chance, but to judge by the state's attitude toward the city, he won't get much either.

The fact that Arcadi Gaydamak and Green Leaf candidate Dan Biron are the only others running for election reflects a fascinating phenomenon: The State of Israel has despaired of Jerusalem, and abandoned it. It turns out that not a single party fighting for leadership of the country believes it has a chance at success in running the city - in other words, everyone believes Jerusalem is lost.

It is widely believed that control of Jerusalem expresses the essence of the Zionist dream. The truth is that the Zionist movement has always expressed doubts about Jerusalem. Theodor Herzl agreed to give it up, and the November 1947 partition decision was joyously accepted, even though Jerusalem was not slated to be part of the State of Israel. Zionism established Tel Aviv as its capital.

During a moment of temporary insanity, during the Six-Day War, the Eshkol-Begin government decided to capture the Arab section of the city. Since then, Jerusalem has known different periods, but the state has been neglecting it for many years; today, the city is more faltering and atrophied than it has been since the days of the Ottomans.

Porush and Barkat are both committed to maintaining Israeli rule in the entire city "forever." Of course, they have only a negligible influence on the political future of Jerusalem, but their attitude toward the Arabs could affect the level of tension in the city.

Barkat and Porush together sound like Avigdor Lieberman. From that perspective, there is no difference between the two candidates. Porush learned something from his years working as a deputy mayor to Teddy Kollek. As mayor of Jerusalem, Kollek said more than once that he would prefer a city without Arabs - but he knew how to convey a pragmatic tolerance, in the spirit of the "enlightened occupation" that at first also guided the governance of the West Bank.

Porush is a lot more right-wing than Kollek. While serving as housing minister, he built himself up as a friend of the settlers in the territories. But he expresses himself more cautiously than Barkat. Instead of promising to expand Jewish settlement in the Arab section of the city, as Barkat does, Porush emphasizes the importance of the status quo.

In an interview published Friday in Yedioth Ahronoth, Barkat said: "My buddies from the Paratroopers who are coming to help me in the election campaign say they're coming just because of me, 'because it has long been an ultra-Orthodox and Arab city, and less our own.'" Porush better understands the multicultural character of Jerusalem, and also absorbed something from Kollek's attitude toward the ultra-Orthodox.

Kollek built his relationship with the ultra-Orthodox on three principles. First, he decided that the needs of the ultra-Orthodox population such as ritual baths (mikvehs), synagogues and religious schools are municipal needs in every way, meaning that the municipality must provide them, just as it provides services to the general population and the secular population in particular.

Kollek's second principle was that there is no symmetry between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular. This means that while the secular can agree on certain streets being closed on Shabbat, the ultra-Orthodox cannot agree that certain streets will be left open to traffic. During Ehud Olmert's term as mayor, it became clear that the ultra-Orthodox can even live with the opening of restaurants and movie theaters on Shabbat.

Kollek learned the third principle from David Ben-Gurion: It's easier to live with the ultra-Orthodox when they're part of the coalition than when they're sitting in opposition. Meir Porush's father and grandfather, both of whom also served as Kollek's deputies, grew up on the fear that the secular government would force upon them a lifestyle contrary to their beliefs; they focused on protecting the needs of their community. The outgoing mayor, Uri Lupolianski, also focused mainly on the needs of his community; the lives of secular residents were not made more difficult during his term.

But Lupolianski projects likable weakness; Porush gives off a sense of aggressive determination. The situation in Jerusalem has been reversed, and now it is the many secular residents who fear for their lifestyle. Porush has not managed to convince secular people that he will treat them as Kollek treated the ultra-Orthodox. And so all that's left is to envy those Jerusalemites who have already left the city.