The Jerusalem District Planning Committee may have been in a hurry to approve a plan for the construction of 900 more apartments in Gilo, but neither it nor Interior Minister Eli Yishai seems to be in a rush to advance the Jerusalem Outline Plan, the first plan to include the Arab as well as the Jewish neighborhoods of the capital since the 1967 Six Day War.
One of the aims of the plan is to address the severe shortage of land for residential building in the Arab parts of the city, a shortage that has forced many Arab residents over the years to build their homes without permits.
The approval of planning schemes according to the Planning Law involves two stages. First, the local planning committee must recommend the plan and the district planning committee must approve it for deposit. (Depositing a plan means allowing the public to examine it for two months and submit complaints against it.) In the second stage, the local planning committee and the district planning committee review the complaints and allow those who have filed them to argue their cases in person. The local and district planning committees consider the complaints and may reject them or revise the plan accordingly, until the district court gives final approval.
The Jerusalem District Planning Committee approved the outline plan for deposit on May 5. It had already done so once before, on October 7, 2008, but agreed to allow newly elected Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to study it and suggest changes before depositing it.
Barkat studied the program, suggested changes and brought the plan back to the district council. The city also made other changes in accordance with instructions set down by the district council in its original approval.
On May 5, the committee reapproved the plan for deposit with the changes that had been made.
One month later, on June 16, Interior Minister Eli Yishai asked the district planning committee to allow him to study the plan before it was deposited. Right-wing members of the Jerusalem municipal planning committee and the Likud mayor of Ma'aleh Adumim, Benny Kasriel, wrote to the planning council with the same request. In his letter, Kasriel complained that new lands opened up for residential housing in the Arab neighborhoods of Issawiyeh and A-Tur would obstruct the scenery and be built too close to the residents of his town.
The Jerusalem District Planning Committee granted Yishai's request despite an opinion by its legal adviser, Danny Horin. Horin wrote that according to the Planning and Building Law, the interior minister was entitled to demand that he be the one to give final approval to the plan. Until that point, however, he did not have the power to suspend the activities of the district planning committee.
Horin also told Ruth Yosef, head of the Jerusalem district branch of the Interior Ministry, that once the district planning committee had approved the plan, neither the Jerusalem municipal planning committee nor the Ma'aleh Adumim local council were legally entitled to recall the plan.
In other words, Horin said, there was no reason for the district committee's not having deposited the outline plan in May.
Now, in November, neither the district planning council nor Yishai show any signs of releasing the pause button.
"The minister has been and is still studying the plan," Yishai's communications adviser, Ro'i Lachmanovich, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "He has been talking with staff members, asking questions and holding meetings."
Lachmanovich said he had no idea how long Yishai's study process would take.
"The fact that the minister is still studying the matter hasn't affected the planning process," he said. "Look at how the district planning committee on Tuesday approved the plan for 900 units in Gilo."
Lachmanovich also denied reports that Yishai, under pressure from right-wing groups in the capital, was concerned by the amount of land designated for housing construction in Arab east Jerusalem. However, he added, "there can't be a situation in which with one hand you allow legal construction and with the other you do nothing about the illegal construction."
When it was pointed out to Lachmanovich that the authorities were demolishing Palestinian houses frequently and had done so even in the past two days, he replied, "That's a drop in the bucket."