Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze'ev Elkin announced on Thursday that he is running for mayor of the capital.
Elkin is now seeking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's support and the backing of his party to officially run as a Likud candidate.
"I notified the prime minister that I've decided to run for mayor," Elkin, who also heads the Environmental Protection Ministry, said in a statement. "I'm prepared to step down from the post of a senior minister and a member of the security cabinet because Jerusalem is a challenge of the highest national priority."
Elkin made it clear last month that he intended to run for mayor, but was waiting to hear from Netanyahu and the Likud municipal committee. Sources close to him accused ministers Arye Dery and Avigdor Lieberman of exerting pressure on Netanyahu not to approve his candidacy in order to prevent harm to their candidate, Moshe Leon. In the end, Elkin announced his candidacy without receiving the prime minister's blessing.
Given the candidates who are currently on the starting line, Elkin has a good chance to shuffle the cards and become a leading candidate. The other candidates are Moshe Leon, who is supported by Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu, and hopes to get the support of the Haredi community; Ofer Berkowitz, chairman of the Awakening movement, which hopes to receive the support of the secular and religious camp; and Yossi Deitch, who hopes to become a Haredi consensus candidate. Elkin builds on Likud's large branches, the movement's apparatus, the religious-national public, political alliances with both the ultra-Orthodox and the secular, and his image as a shrewd politician with excellent connections to the central government.
Elkin, who is not a resident of Jerusalem, told Haaretz two weeks ago that he believes this fact will not stand in his way.
"I don't think I'm not a Jerusalemite in the true sense of the word," he said, "It's not like that other situation you're talking about, where a few months before the elections Moshe Leon came from somewhere totally different [to run for mayor]. Jerusalem is the center of my life and has been since the day I immigrated to Israel. It's the place I've worked all my life. I am a member of the Hebrew University, which is one of the anchor institutions of Jerusalem.
"When I sit in traffic, it's Jerusalem traffic, not Tel Aviv traffic," he said. "When I go out with my wife to a restaurant - it's in Jerusalem. I have a subscription to the Jerusalem Zoo. Yes, I sleep somewhere else- in Gush Etzion, which is part of Greater Jerusalem, and that is where I pay my municipal taxes- but the entire fabric of my life is centered around Jerusalem."
In the interview, Elkin refused to reveal his position on the closure of businesses on the Sabbath in the capital, but said he was a "great follower of the status quo."
He added: "There are very sensitive conflicts of interest between the various groups in Israeli society, and it is very important for me to respect the status quo, because I believe that any attempt to change it by force is dangerous to the State of Israel, if only for one simple reason -- because of the demographic process I was talking about ... we are in a situation where, today, if the majority of tomorrow becomes a minority, the status quo is very important."
About a month ago, Elkin and coalition chairman David Amsalem were considering running for mayor, and senior Likud officials said the two would not face each other but would ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud municipal committee to elect one of them as the party's candidate in the city.
Senior officials said that outgoing mayor Nir Barkat is a Likud member and there is no reason why the party should not appoint a candidate on its behalf. The same officials added that there is no reason why candidate Moshe Leon, who won the support of a part of the Likud branch in Jerusalem in the previous elections for mayor, will receive the party's support in the upcoming elections.
In March, Barkat announced that he would not run for a third term as mayor. Barkat will continue to serve as mayor until the October elections and will then run for the Likud list. Barkat has expressed several times in the past, saying that he sees himself as a candidate for the Likud leadership and for prime minister.
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