Agence France Presse (AFP)
November 12, 2008 - 8:00pm

A secular tycoon celebrating his election as Occupied Jerusalem mayor on Wednesday vowed to turn the holy city into a world metropolis and bolster its illegal status as Israel's "undivided" capital. Nir Barkat won 52 percent of the vote in Tuesday's poll, routing an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, a scandal-plagued Russian-Israeli arms dealer and a pro-cannabis candidate.

Media hailed his triumph as a secular revolution after five years under ultra-Orthodox Mayor Uri Lupolianski.

Barkat, 49, swept to victory on a hard-line ticket rejecting concessions to the Palestinians of any part of Occupied East Jerusalem as part of a peace deal.

All Israeli presence on occupied land is illegal under international law and violates numerous UN resolutions.

The successful businessman with a penchant for natty suits faces an uphill battle in a city struggling with rampant poverty, massive debt and a growing gap between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods. Human-rights groups and Palestinians have long decried the preferential treatment given to the city's Jewish inhabitants.

"Tonight Jerusalem has won, tonight Israel has won, tonight the Jewish people have won," Barkat told supporters in a victory speech at his campaign headquarters.

"This victory belongs to all those who love and appreciate our incredible city, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. The victory belongs to right and left, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs."

It is not clear why the election was a "victory" for Palestinians, most of whom honored a traditional boycott of such polls.

A former member of caretaker Premier Ehud Olmert's Kadima, Barkat prides himself on having quit the centrist party after "exposing" what he said was a "plan to divide Jerusalem."

His hard-line stance won him the backing of the city's religious right-wing parties which represent a hefty part of Occupied Jerusalem's population of 700,000.

He promised to build new Jewish neighborhoods in Occupied Arab East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of their promised state in line with international law.

The vast majority of Jerusalem's Jewish population considers Israel's designation of the city as its "eternal and undivided" capital a sacred mantra, even though it is rejected by the international community.

The Jerusalem issue is a main sticking point in the US-brokered Middle East peace talks.

The international community and the Palestinians have criticized Israel for continuing Jewish settlement activity in the eastern parts of the city, as well as in the rest of the Occupied West Bank. However, they have put scant pressure on the Israelis to make them comply with the world's demands.

The election was again boycotted by residents of Occupied East Jerusalem, home to some 250,000 Palestinians. Palestinians have shunned municipal elections since Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that was not recognized by the international community.

Barkat's victory underscores the growing rift between religious and secular Jews in the increasingly impoverished city.

"I see the big picture for Jerusalem," said Barkat, who says his role model is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and who wants to turn the holy city into "an international metropolis."

The incoming mayor has promised new legislation to attract companies, especially from Israel's large computer industry, and young families in a bid to reverse an exodus from Occupied Jerusalem.

"Jerusalem must now carry out a revolution on a huge scale," the Maariv daily said in an editorial. "The capital city, which became the poorest and most neglected city in Israel, needs an earthquake that will leave no stone unturned."

Across the country, Kadima candidates won about 50 of the more than 150 municipal councils, but the elections also saw a sharp rise in support for environmentalist parties.

Tel Aviv, Mayor Ron Huldai won a third term after 10 years marked by an economic boom


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