Nir Barkat
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at a meeting in April 2010. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Israeli leftists from the Peace Now movement and Meretz political party on Thursday launched a campaign against Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who recently backed a plan to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem to make way for a tourist center.

Meretz was the only party in Barkat's municipal coalition to vote against the plan, which led the mayor to expel three Meretz city council members from his coalition and fire deputy mayor, Pepe Alalu, also from Meretz.

At the opening meeting for the campaign, which is called Barkat is giving Jerusalem – to the settlers" (the slogan plays on the Hebrew work "lechalek," meaning to divide and to hand out), former minister Yossi Sarid said it is time to find a mayoral candidate who openly supports the division of Jerusalem as a means of "saving the city."

Sarid proposed Alalu as a potential candidate for Jerusalem mayor, saying he is a well-known and respected figure in the city who is devoted to its residents. "We must prepare him and develop him as a candidate for mayor form this moment," said Sarid.

Meretz party leader MK Haim Oron said that whoever fails to find a resolution to the problem of Jerusalem will fail to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole. "Whoever says a two-state solution [is the answer] but doesn't say two capitals in Jerusalem is lying to himself and misleading the public," said Oron.

Oron added that the manager of Peace Now in Jerusalem said the group will not let Barkat rest in the coming weeks and will unleash a campaign against him that he will not be able to ignore.

The Jerusalem municipality last week approved preliminary plans to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan as part of an initiative to build a recreational area there.

The U.S. State Department and United Nations have criticized the decision, calling it the kind of step that undermines the trust fundamental to progress in the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.