Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat on Tuesday announced that he was joining the Likud, and would seek a seat on the party’s next Knesset list in the upcoming party primaries. In his announcement, Barkat said that he had always been a supporter of the Likud and of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and now he wished to make it “official.”
“Fifteen years ago I left my business interests behind to dedicate all my time to serve the people of Jerusalem – which I do for a salary of one shekel a year,” Barkat said in the announcement. “I do this because of a deep sense of responsibility for the future of Israel. As a result I have decided to join the Likud.
“As one who believes in ensuring that Israel and Jerusalem remain united, and the need for more security and less inequality, I cannot sit by and watch from the side any longer,” he wrote. “I intend to bring many new members with me in order to bring new blood into the party, and enhance the leadership of the party which will hopefully properly guide the state. Our membership in the Likud will also ensure that Jerusalem receives the honor it deserves, as well as its fair share of national resources.”
It is not clear how Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will take the news of a high-profile potential rival to his throne joining the party. Perhaps, observers now say, advanced knowledge that Barkat was planning this announcement is the reason that sources close to Netanyahu said earlier this week that he was likely to call for new internal elections for the leadership of the Likud. The elections will be held within two months, according to the sources. Netanyahu reportedly made the decision last week after consulting with senior Likud officials and with political strategists.
According to analysts, Netanyahu’s purpose in advancing the primaries is to prevent potential rivals from mounting a serious challenge to his leadership of the party. As a sitting Prime Minister, and a rather popular one at that, according to polls, Netanyahu is likely to win any primary in a landslide – thus sewing up his position as Likud head for at least four years.
Also unlikely to be enthusiastic about a Barkat candidacy is Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, who sees Barkat as attracting the same middle class voters to which his Kulanu party tries to appeal. Beyond that, there is bad blood between Barkat and Kahclon over the resignation of his brother, Koby, as Yerushalayim deputy mayor earlier this year. Moshe Kachlon is said to feel that Barkat did not stand up for Koby over a lawsuit and allegations of impropriety against him, according to political analysts.