(photo credit: AP)
As the government talks about dividing the capital, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski on Wednesday proposed a NIS 200 million "Marshall Plan" for east Jerusalem in an eleventh-hour attempt to improve infrastructure and living conditions in east Jerusalem in order to keep the city united.
The grandiose building and development proposal is reminiscent of the four-year, $13-billion Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild Europe after World War II, the city said. The plan, which is still pending municipal and state approval, comes as the government is openly discussing the possibility of ceding Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as part of a future peace treaty with the Palestinians, and less than one year before mayoral elections.
"While many are busy talking about Jerusalem, we act," Lupolianski said at a City Hall press conference announcing the plan.
"Our goal is to set facts," he said in rare, albeit brief, remarks in English geared toward the international press.
Despite massive city development projects initiated in east Jerusalem during the tenure of former mayor Ehud Olmert, the long-neglected predominantly Arab half of the city still lags far behind the rest of Jerusalem in terms of infrastructure, roads, garbage collection, housing and green areas, following four decades of uncertainty over the political future of east Jerusalem.
Lupolianski said that in order to maintain Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli sovereignty, it was incumbent upon Israel to bridge the gaps in the conditions between the Jewish and predominantly Arab sections of the city.
"The city will be united when we remove the gaps that exist between west and east Jerusalem," Lupolianski said.
The Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs, Adnan Husseini, on Wednesday called the mayor's announcement "ridiculous nonsense" and pure electioneering.
Palestinians claim all of east Jerusalem - including the city's holy sites - as the capital of their future state.
"This is the first time we hear that the mayor is planning to do something for east Jerusalem," Husseini said.
"The people are intelligent enough to understand what is going on," he added.
The proposal, which has been on the planning board for the past year and is part of the city master plan, would see the construction of housing, schools, gardens, public buildings and hotels throughout east Jerusalem, in coordination with the government.
Left-wing MKs also attacked the program, stating that it was an "underhanded attempt" to establish Jewish claims on east Jerusalem.
"They are trying to make political decisions under the guise of dedicating funds," said MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz). "We should be asking ourselves who exactly the mayor is working for. It is clear there are right-wing interests at play here."
Last week, Lupolianski took part in a conference held by opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu to mark the new "Coalition for a United Jerusalem."
Quoting several biblical passages highlighting the importance of a united Jerusalem, Lupolianski said that to divide Jerusalem would be to "tear out the intestines" of the Jewish nation.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has suggested that several of the outlying Palestinian refugee camps could be handed to the Palestinians as part of a final status agreement. Netanyahu has said that surrendering any part of Jerusalem was unacceptable, and would "invite Hamas into Jerusalem."
Of the east Jerusalem residents, 73 percent are Muslim, while 19% are Christian and 9% are Jewish, according to city statistics.
In all, Arabs make up one-third of the city's 750,000 residents.
The proposal was discounted by Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat as a "media spin" ahead of next year's mayoral elections and amid the continuing exodus of Israeli residents of the city seeking better quality of life elsewhere.
"I am amazed that Lupolianski remembers just before the elections to strengthen [Israel's] sovereignty in all parts of Jerusalem, after four-and-a-half years in which he neglected east Jerusalem and its holy sites," Barkat said in a written response.
"All that remains to be seen is if this is another gimmick bereft of content from the ensemble of city gimmicks which never received funding for development and fruition, or if for the first time this a real concrete plan which will strengthen Jerusalem," he said.
Barkat, who has launched a public campaign to keep Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty in what was widely seen as an effort to court hawkish voters in the city, added that it was never too late to strengthen Jerusalem, the timing of the move notwithstanding.
The City Hall press conference comes just days before a US-sponsored peace parley is slated to begin in Annapolis, Maryland, with the prickly issue of Jerusalem expected to loom large in the post-conference talks.
Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.
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