If Jerusalem Had a Mayor

If Jerusalem had a mayor, the last two years could have been his greatest. Like Rudolph Giulianni in New York, Jerusalem's mayor could have become a figure for the history books, standing by his city in its most trying times.

If Jerusalem had a mayor, the last two years could have been his greatest. Like Rudolph Giulianni in New York, Jerusalem's mayor could have become a figure for the history books, standing by his city in its most trying times, inspiring it, giving it courage and hope, turning its darkest hour into its finest.

If Jerusalem had a mayor, during the last two years he could have proved he is a leader of international stature. He could have turned the success of the city into a national Israeli enterprise. He could have responded to the attacks on Jerusalem with a comprehensive urban renewal program. He could have undertaken a grand civic campaign for renewing the face of the dying capital and turning around the tumorous processes that are eating away at it.

If Jerusalem had a mayor, in the last nine-and-a-half years he could have done wonders. He could have given Jerusalem a new secular life. He could have put it once again at the center of the Israeli experience. He could have redefined Jerusalem as the cultural center and the focus of economic and artistic and academic creativity. He could have turned the closed ghettos of the city into a fruitful mosaic of pluralistic existence.

But Jerusalem does not have a mayor. For nine-and-a-half years the city has been mayorless. Instead it had Ehud Olmert, a wily apparachnik, who works day and night for his own sake, a cynical politician who doesn't know the limits of power, pretension and patronization, a constant traveler who had no hesitation about partying in foreign climes while his own city was under attack, a haughty cigar smoker with no feelings for the pain, poverty, and despair of Jerusalem's residents.

Ehud Olmert is a talented man. Intelligent. Quick. Articulate. So, it's clear that's not why he failed as mayor of Jerusalem. He betrayed the trust in him as mayor of Jerusalem. The multidimensional disaster he brought on the city was not mere lack of success; it was a public crime. Because Ehud Olmert could have behaved differently. But Olmert didn't bother. He blew it off. For nine and half years he made Jerusalem a grinder for his own axe. He used it, neglected it, and finally escaped it. He came, destroyed, and ran.

The Likud Central Committee members committed a lot of sins on December 8, 2002. As well as sending Inbal Gavrielli, Naomi Blumenthal and Ronni Bar On to the Knesset, they did things that should not have been done. But their decision to put Olmert at the bottom of the list was an impressive democratic decision, an expression of their justifiably popular disgust of a Machiavellian prince who looked down on them. It was a genuine public uprising against a person who had ceased to be a public servant. It showed Likudniks were fed up with Ehud Olmert's destructive nihilism, just as Labor voters showed their disgust with Haim Ramon's destructive nihilism.

Ariel Sharon tends to ignore the decision of the Likud Central Committee. His need for a friendly Bibi clone of his own to help him neutralize his hated opponent Netanyahu is making him seriously consider giving Olmert a leading position in the next government. But if there are any public ethics in Israel, they negate the possibility that the person who took Jerusalem to the brink of bankruptcy can be considered a worthy appointment as finance minister. If Israel has any political hygiene at all, it needs to prevent the possibility that the person who cynically abandoned the Israeli capital will be considered a worthy appointment for foreign minister. If Sharon needs Olmert as a safety net against Netanyahu, he can name him roving ambassador. The millions of frequent-flyer miles Olmert has already accumulated have prepared him well to be an excellent roving ambassador.

But it won't be enough to keep Olmert away from the cabinet table. After his decade-long rampage through Jerusalem, the Likud has to rebuild what he destroyed. The only person who can do that is Dan Meridor, who is undecided for the time being. He doesn't want the mayoralty delivered to him on a silver platter; he wants it on a golden platter. But Sharon should help Meridor. Sharon has to build an impressive supra-partisan list that could create a revolution in the city, and he has to provide the budget resources and the political backing that will enable the revolution to take place. He has to make clear to the prince of Rehavia that he is a lot more crucial in the municipality building in Safra Square than in the government complex on Givat Ram.

Times are tough in the entire country, but in Jerusalem they are dramatically so. After nine-and-a-half years of Olmert's disaster, the hope of Meridor is the last hope. Truly the last hope. Neither Sharon nor Meridor can be allowed to ignore it. In 2003, they will determine the city's fate. The future of Jerusalem is in their hands.