Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Lion joined a number of top Yisrael Beytenu officials Monday afternoon to tour a controversial proposed archeological park on Mount Scopus, which was recently shelved by Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz.
Plans for the project – which would obstruct growth in Palestinian neighborhoods Isawiya and Artul – were dropped by Peretz on October 3, due to the area being “devoid of unique archeological remains that justify turning it into a natural park.”
Despite being planned for several years, Peretz wrote in a statement that the decision to freeze the plans was made after being convinced by legal experts, as well as other colleagues, that the area was not suitable for a park after all.
However, Lion asserted Monday that the park must be built to curb Arab attacks against Jewish residents of the area, and stressed the tactical importance of such an undertaking, both for national security and Jerusalem.
He was joined by Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avigdor Liberman, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, among other MKs.
“Over the last five years...residents of every neighborhood close to this area have suffered a decline in their personal safety,” said Lion.
“There is only one solution: enhancing security, including by establishing an archeological park.”
Lion said it is imperative that the municipality also dramatically increase police patrols in the area, and add surveillance cameras and lighting to improve presently lackluster safety standards.
Liberman emphasized the land’s import to Jerusalem, and echoed Lion’s sentiments regarding security.
“Anyone who looks at this area clearly sees that it is the last connection between Jerusalem and the desert,” he said. “We must maintain this property.”
He went on to accuse incumbent Mayor Nir Barkat of “collaborating with leftist organizations,” and claimed that if Lion was elected mayor he would ensure the park is built.
“We think that it is time to have a Jerusalem mayor who represents the national camp,” said Liberman. “A mayor with a clear national perspective.”
While Peretz noted the proposed park’s “natural value,” and conceded that it is “the gateway to Jerusalem from the Judean Desert,” he said approval of it would not be issued until the national and international implications of such an undertaking are determined.
Construction of the park has been strongly supported by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Meretz councilman Meir Margalit, who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, contended earlier this month that the planned park was never an ecological endeavor, so much as a smokescreen to thwart Palestinian construction in Isawiya and Artul.
“This was the last reservoir of land for the two villages, and the idea was to prevent them from continuing to build – especially near the main road to Ma’aleh Adumin,” Margalit said after the project was put on hold.
The councilman added that he sent an email to the municipality’s legal adviser noting the ongoing illegal razing of the area for the proposed park, prior to it being approved.
“Over the last two years, many times, every couple of months the municipality along with the National Parks Authority entered the area and destroyed numerous structures, including one containing animals, in order to prepare the ground for the park – even though it was not approved,” he said.
“I said this is illegal, but the municipality responded that [the park] will be approved, so it’s not a big deal,” Margalit added.
Indeed, Margalit said that the municipality said it was so certain the park would be ratified that it preemptively entered the area to save time.
In response to Peretz’s assertion that it was suddenly determined the area did not, in fact, justify building a park, Margalit said the government knew this all along, but wanted to use the land for “political purposes.”
“What I knew from the beginning is that the real motivation [to build the park] was political – to try to stop development of Isawiya and Artul,” he said.
“The motivation was to keep the land to perhaps build a new Jewish settlement one day,” Margalit said, explaining that this tactic is commonly referred to as a “green settlement.”
“Green settlements are places where settlers cannot build settlements, so they take the land to build a national park to make it a settlement in the future,” he said.