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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Given the overwhelming international opposition to the idea, there is absolutely no way that Israel can build housing in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said Tuesday.
Even though the Defense Ministry has formally authorized construction of thousands of residential units in the E1 area, Lupolianski said simple pragmatism meant there was absolutely no prospect of such construction there.
"Whether or not I support it is not the point," the mayor said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "Pragmatism says that today, given Israel's relations with the international community - with the Americans and the Europeans - there's no chance."
He added that he certainly believed, nonetheless, that Ma'aleh Adumim should be connected to Jerusalem and knew of tentative plans for non-residential construction.
Lupolianski also asserted pragmatic concerns to dismiss the notion of adjusting some of Jerusalem's borders, excluding certain Arab neighborhoods, to offset demographic trends that see a rising proportion of Arab residents in the city.
As the security barrier had gone up around Jerusalem, he said, "tens of thousands" of Arabs had simply relocated from areas beyond the barrier to areas inside it, to safeguard their Jerusalem residency status. By the same token, if Israel formally rescinded its control over Jerusalem neighborhoods to the north, say, of the Kalandiya roadblock, a similar population shift would occur.
That was not to say, Lupolianski stressed, that Israel's leaders didn't need to plan and think strategically about Israel's dimensions.
"We certainly don't want to rule over those who aren't interested in us," he said. But talk about adjusting Jerusalem's borders from various national politicians, he said, was just "media spin" and "electoral spin" that was "inappropriate" for a subject of such gravity as the fate of Jerusalem.
The mayor claimed that unless dramatic steps were taken now to address the root issues affecting the capital's demographics, it was "almost certain" that the city would have an Arab mayor in 10 years' time.
The balance at present, he said, was some two-thirds Jewish and one-third Arab in a city of 700,000, "and the [Jewish] numbers are dwindling."
As the capital of the Jewish state and the focus of world Jewish identity, the city had to have a solid Jewish majority, but it was being frittered away, Lupolianski said. He said he had urged Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to renew a symbolic NIS 40,000 grant given to young couples buying homes in the city - a program that had helped attract hundreds of such young families over the past six months but was now being discontinued.
The sum itself was not significant, he acknowledged, but it "sent a message" that Jerusalem was a government priority, and therefore bolstered demand to live here. Without that grant, he said, the sense was being created that the government really wanted people to move to the Negev and the Galilee, where various inducements were available, rather than to the capital.
While the E1 plan was unrealistic, he hoped that the so-called Safdie plan for some 20,000 housing units to the west of the city would soon come to fruition, and that these homes would prove attractive and affordable to people who were otherwise choosing to live on the city's periphery - "in Ma'aleh Adumim, Modi'in, Shoham, Beit Shemesh."
The mayor rejected the notion that the city was becoming less welcoming to non-Orthodox Jews.
"We did a survey, and lots of those who live here and are coming here are Orthodox," he said. "There are more Orthodox Jews here than before. But has the face of the city changed?" he asked. "Is it less open? Does it give fewer services to the general sectors in culture, arts and so on? I don't think so. I think this is an open, free city."
He added that the past year had also seen none of the previous "demonstrations, disturbances" and other frictions of years past between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jerusalemites.
Lupolianski claimed he intended to serve only this one term as mayor, and was hoping that, by its end, it would be clear that he had been able to "change the city" for the better.
He noted that, on Thursday night, he would be presenting the first balanced budget in the city's history for approval by the city council, and highlighted a dramatic cutback in bureaucracy, with close to 1,000 of 3,160 jobs cut from the ranks of city employees, and a new focus on giving better service.
Lupolianski also promised that residents and visitors would find the often garbage-strewn city significantly cleaner in the coming year, saying that an additional NIS 85 million had been allocated to the budget for cleaning the city.