“Tonight, Jerusalem won! Tonight, Israel won!” cried Nir Barkat, the new Mayor of Jerusalem in his victory speech. Barkat, who ran for Mayor five years ago, was elected on November 12 with 52% of the vote.
He promised to work for all Jerusalemites regardless of how they voted, their religion, or race. Calling the event “a night of brotherhood”, Barkat sought to draw the faiths in Jerusalem together rather than to divide them.
While he remains loyal to his Jewish routes, Barkat said that all were welcomed into Jerusalem. However, there are two potential problems:
Firstly, he has said he will not cede Arab areas of the city to Palestine if it becomes a state. He called Jerusalem “the capital city of Israel and the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” saying that surrendering ground to Palestine would be “a very serious mistake”.
The second potential problem is that his power base includes very few Palestinians. Only a small number turned out to vote and those who did seem generally to have voted for the ex-Russian oligarch Arkady Gaydamak. Of the 537,000 who were eligible to vote, only 40% did, and thus Barkat won the election with direct support of under 25% of the populus.
Despite these, however, he remains “a Mayor of all of the residents of Jerusalem.” He also promised to “listen and assist those who voted for me and those who did not…I am aware of the challenge.”
His electoral colleagues have already announced several policies. Improving the public services makes the list, along with making the city greener. Affordable housing is set to be provided too though Barkat has stated that he is unlikely to do anything drastic as he greatly respects the ultra-orthodox elements in Jerusalem.
Reports indicate that Barkat is more popular both locally and nationally than any of the other candidates. With Barack Obama in charge of the USA, Gordon Brown leading the UK’s international talks, and Tony Blair as envoy for the Middle East, the peace-loving Mayor of Jerusalem looks as if he should have an easier job in keeping things settled than his predecessor. His closing words were of unity: “To the people who voted for my opponent…you are my brothers and will always remain so. There is room in Jerusalem for everyone!”