French company quits Jerusalem cable car project

Decision made ‘to avoid any political interpretations.’

By RINA BASSIST
March 25, 2015 23:19
3 minute read.
France

THE SAFEGE FIRM built this experimental transport system in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire, in northcentral France. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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PARIS – For political reasons, the French company SAFEGE has withdrawn from the Jerusalem cable-car project, which is largely located over the Green Line.

After two years of involvement in the project during the feasibility-study stage, the company decided to forgo any further participation, Le Figaro. The decision was made “to avoid any political interpretations,” a representative of SAFEGE’s parent company, Suez Environnement, told the newspaper.

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Poma, another French company considered a world leader in cable cars, said a few days ago that it has no involvement in the project.

The Jerusalem cable car project is designed to offer a low cost solution to traffic congestion downtown and around the Old City. The plan is to have the car running through four stations: neat the Old Train Station at the northern end of Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony neighborhood, outside the Old City by the Dung Gate, near the Seven Arches Hotel on the Mount of Olives, and at the Garden of Gethsemane.

The municipality has been promoting the project for some time now, despite initial objection by the Transportation Ministry. According to the municipality, the cable car will be less expensive and more feasible than building an underground train or opening new transport lanes. The car would apparently be able to transport hundreds of passengers at a time. The cost of the project is estimated as NIS 125 million, and would be expected to reduce considerably private and public transportation in those areas of the city.

But Green NGOs, leftwing organizations and even ultra-Orthodox groups have been advocating fiercely against the plan, each for its own reasons.

Environmental groups say that erecting the giant poles and the high infrastructure needed for the aerial cable car will damage the environment, entail uprooting of trees and change Jerusalem’s sky line.

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Pro-Palestinian groups object to the expropriation of land in east Jerusalem to build the infrastructure, and fear that the government is trying to establish facts on the ground (or in the air, in this case) using the cable car to connect the west of the city with the east. The involvement in the project of the right-wing Ir David Foundation (Elad), which operates the Ir David archeological garden, adds fuel to the fire.

On the other hand, ultra-Orthodox groups have voiced concerns over erecting the tall infrastructure near sensitive religious spots.

According to Le Figaro, on March 10, PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat wrote to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, arguing that the cable car plan would involve illegal expropriation of land owned by the Wakf Islamic trust. A few days later, the French Foreign and Economy ministries advised SAFEGE against any participation in the project, which might entail legal complications, the newspaper reported.

When The Jerusalem Post inquired, the French Foreign Ministry refused to confirm or deny any contacts with SAFEGE on the issue.

“France published last June on the website of the Foreign Ministry information regarding potential investors, detailing the legal and economic implications, as well as implications on the level of the company’s reputation, related to economic and financial engagement with Israeli settlements, including east Jerusalem, which the international community considers as occupied territory. Regarding the information in the press that SAFEGE has abandoned its participation in the Jerusalem cable car project, only the company can respond to that,” the ministry said.

In 2007, a French pro-Palestinian organization filed a complaint against French transport giants Veolia Environnement and Alstom for their involvement in the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail.

Jerry Lewis in London and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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