Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allegedly worked to orchestrate a position swap in which the current Jerusalem mayor would be given a Jerusalem ministerial position.
According to two sources inside the ruling Likud party, Netanyahu promised Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat that he would become Minister of Jerusalem Affairs if the current minister, Ze’ev Elkin, is elected to replace him in today’s municipal elections.
The position swap was revealed by the Times of Israel (ToI), which explained that “Netanyahu made the commitment to Barkat in a meeting earlier this month”. The swap would “allow [Barkat] to move straight from his Safra Square municipal headquarters [in Jerusalem], which he has occupied for ten years, to a government office”.
ToI added that “Barkat’s appointment as Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister, the full title for the role, would only take place if Elkin wins the mayoral election and vacates the position, which he holds.”
Collaboration between the three parties seems to have been ongoing in the run-up to the election, with ToI explaining that current mayor Barkat was “quick to endorse Elkin” when he announced his candidacy back in June. Netanyahu formally announced his support for Elkin – who is known to be a close confidant of the PM – in September.
Spokespeople for both Barkat’s and Elkin’s campaigns denied that any deal had been offered, while Netanyahu’s office declined to comment, ToI added.
Nir Barkat has been a controversial figure during his time as Mayor of Jerusalem. Earlier this month Barkat raided the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem, causing outrage among its residents. Fatah spokesman in Jerusalem, Thaer Fasfous, said that Barkat raided the refugee camp and toured it near the illegal Israeli military checkpoint located in its main street. Fasfous added that prior to the raid, an Israeli municipality team had cleaned the streets ready for Barkat’s arrival.
Also this month, Barkat announced that he plans to remove the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) from occupied East Jerusalem, accusing it of “operating illegally and promoting incitement against Israel”. The Jerusalem Municipality confirmed that UNRWA schools – which serve about 1,800 students – would be closed by the end of the current school year. Barkat claimed the move was triggered by the US’ announcement earlier this year that it would end all funding to UNRWA, which he saw as an opportunity to “end the lie of the ‘Palestinian refugee problem’”.