Jerusalem Mayor Expected to Announce Move Into National Politics

Instead of vying for a third term as mayor, Nir Barkat is likely to contend for a Knesset seat in Netanyahu’s Likud party

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Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, right, embracing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in  February 2015.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, right, enjoying an intimate moment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in February 2015. Credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is expected to announce next week that he won’t run for a third term as mayor, but will instead vie for a place on the ruling Likud party’s Knesset ticket, sources close to him said.

On Thursday, the city council is expected to approve the municipal budget for 2018, now that an argument between the municipality and the Finance Ministry over the budget’s size has been resolved. Barkat has long said that once the budget is passed, he will announce his decision on whether to run for reelection.

Over the past year, two factions have formed among the people close to Barkat. One favors him running for a third term as mayor. If he did, he would most likely win, since there is not yet any candidate who could be a threat to him. The other faction believes he should move on to national politics and run for Knesset on behalf of Likud.

People close to Barkat said he has debated these two options for a long time. He has repeatedly put off announcing a decision. But over the past few days, several sources in city hall said, he has apparently decided definitively not to run for a third term.

The Israel Television News Company published a similar report Tuesday evening.

One factor contributing to his decision is the likelihood that national elections will be held at most a few months after the municipal elections in late October. This means that even if Barkat wanted to run for a place on Likud’s Knesset ticket from the mayor’s office, he would have to resign shortly after being reelected.

In recent years, Barkat has invested great effort in registering people for Likud and forming connections with officials in Likud chapters around the country. He therefore believes he can secure one of the top spots on the ticket. He also recently won support from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Several candidates have so far announced plans to run for mayor of Jerusalem. They include Moshe Leon, a close associate of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who lost to Barkat in the last election; Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, who was arrested last week on suspicion of corruption; municipal opposition leader Ofer Berkowitz, who heads the pluralistic Hitorerut party; Yossi Havilio, the city’s former legal advisor; and Avi Salman, a former Barkat aide.

Leon is currently thought to have the best chance of winning, given the support he received from the ultra-Orthodox community in the last election. Nevertheless, the ultra-Orthodox are still debating over whether to run their own mayoral candidate.

Barkat’s office said, “There’s nothing new. Barkat plans to have the city council approve Jerusalem’s biggest budget ever on Thursday, thanks to the support he recruited from government ministries. As he promised, after passing the budget, he will announce his decision.”

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