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(photo credit: Courtesy of SPNI)
A final decision on a controversial building plan that would expand Jerusalem westward was delayed on Tuesday by an Interior Ministry planning committee for two months following the objection of environmentalists and at least fifty parliamentarians who say that the project will irrevocably damage the Jerusalem landscape.
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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 Jerusalem in one of the largest construction projects ever proposed in Israel.
The contentious proposal, which has been on the drawing boards for much of the last decade and which has the backing of the Jerusalem Municipality, was pending final approval by the Interior Ministry's national planning and building committee.
The committee, an independent body comprised of 31 members, including eight publicly appointed officials, will meet again in two months' time to take up the issue, an interior ministry spokesman said.
Last year, the committee also put off a final decision on the proposal.
Hundreds of people, including six Knesset members from both the Left and the Right, demonstrated outside the Interior Ministry offices adjacent to the Prime Minster's Office during the critical morning committee meeting.
Among the MK's who attended the protest were Yuri Shtern (Yisrael Beitenu) Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor) Colette Avital (Labor) Yossi Beilin (Meretz) and Zevulun Orlev (National Union-NRP), as well as
former MK Omri Sharon, the son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"This plan is bad from any angle you look at it," said Sharon, who previously served as the head of the Knesset's Environmental Committee.
"Socially economically and environmentally, this plan will not strengthen Jerusalem but will hurt the city and its surroundings," he said.
The demonstrators chanted "Save Jerusalem!" and "No to Safdie!" waving huge placards which read, "Approving the Safdie plan is the destruction of Jerusalem!" and "Stop the destruction!"
The plan would cause an "ecological, economic, and environmental disaster," said protest leader Yael Elyashar.
The peaceful but boisterous protest continued throughout the morning and into the afternoon for the duration of the five hour committee meeting.
A decision was expected by early afternoon.
Proponents of the city's westward expansion plan, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, argue that it is essential for the natural growth of Jerusalem, with its notoriously high real estate prices, and continuing Jewish emigration.
But the environmentalist and green groups who oppose the plan say that it will irrevocably alter Jerusalem's historic vistas and destroy the remnants of green open spaces around the city.
An alternate plan to build eastward to the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim has been frozen due to American opposition.
Safdie said this week that had the government approved an eastward expansion plan he never would have drawn up a proposal to expand Jerusalem to the west.
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