The final decision on the controversial Safdie Plan was delayed for two months Tuesday by an Interior Ministry planning committee following a fierce public struggle by environmentalists who say that the project will irrevocably damage the Jerusalem landscape. The much-debated proposal, named after the internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie who designed the original plan, would see the construction of 20,000 housing units on more than 26 square kilometers of natural woodlands and forests west of the city. The proposal, which has been on the drawing boards for much of the last decade and which has the backing of the Jerusalem Municipality, had been pending final approval by the Interior Ministry's national planning and building committee. A July meeting to vote on the proposal was postponed to the October date. The decision to postpone for the second time in as many years was met with partial relief by environmental groups, who vowed to continue their efforts until the proposal was rejected. "This is a corrupt tactic meant to exhaust the intense opposition of the public and of some of the members of the committee," the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said in an initial reaction. "It is important that everybody know that the struggle will continue until this wretched plan to destroy the hills of Jerusalem and the city itself is completely rejected," the statement said. Earlier, hundreds of people, including five Knesset members, demonstrated against the plan outside the Interior Ministry offices adjacent to the Prime Minister Office during the critical morning committee meeting. Among the lawmakers who attended the protest were MK Yuri Shtern (Israel Beiteinu), MK Michael Melchior (Labor), MK Colette Avital (Labor), MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz), and MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-NRP), as well as former MK Omri Sharon, the son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The plan would cause an "ecological, economic, and environmental disaster," said protest leader Yael Elyashar. The boisterous and emotional protest continued throughout the morning and into the afternoon for the duration of the five-hour committee meeting. Proponents of the city's westward expansion plan, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, argue that it is essential due to the natural growth of Jerusalem, with its notoriously high real estate prices, and is needed to combat continuing Jewish emigration. But the environmentalist and green groups that oppose the plan say that it will irrevocably alter Jerusalem's historic vistas and destroy the remnants of green open spaces around the city. Criticism of the delaying of the decision centers around the fact that the Interior Ministry claimed it needed extra time to study the plan. But the coterie of green groups - called The Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition - point to a study they commissioned which indicates that at least 60,000 housing units could be built in Jerusalem over the next two decades, arguing that the expansion of Jerusalem westward is unnecessary and would only lead to the neglect of the city itself. CEO of the Jerusalem Developmental Authority, Ezri Levy, claims the report ignores the difficulties involved in intensive construction within the city limits. "According to the report, it is possible to build 6,400 units in Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. We are talking about impossible overcrowding and the kibbutz doesn't want to give up these areas." In addition, a report commissioned by then interior minister Ophir Paz-Pines, which approved most of the plan's provisions, was submitted by attorney Gideon Vitkon last year.

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