moshe safdie 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A final decision on a controversial building plan that will expand Jerusalem westward was delayed for two months Tuesday by an Interior Ministry planning committee following a fierce public struggle by environmentalists who say that the project will irrevocably damage the Jerusalem landscape.
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 proposal, which has been on the drawing boards for much of the last decade and which has the backing of the Jerusalem Municipality, had been pending final approval by the Interior Ministry's national planning and building committee.
The committee, which is a 31-member independent body including 8 publicly-appointed officials, will meet again in two months' time to take up the issue after receiving a comprehensive report on available housing in the city, an interior ministry spokesman said.
The committee had previously put off a final decision on the proposal just last year.
The decision to postpone for the second time in as many years was met with partial relief by environmental groups, who vowed to continue their efforts until the proposal was rejected.
"This is a corrupt tactic meant to exhaust the intense opposition of the public and of some of the members of the committee," the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said in an initial reaction.
"It is important that everybody know that the struggle will continue until this wretched plan to destroy the hills of Jerusalem and the city itself is completely rejected," the statement said.
Earlier, hundreds of people, including five Knesset members, demonstrated against the plan outside the Interior Ministry offices adjacent to the Prime Minster's Office during the critical morning committee meeting.
Among the lawmakers who attended the protest were MK Yuri Shtern (Israel Beiteinu), MK Michael Melchior (Labor), MK Colette Avital (Labor), MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz), and MK 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 boisterous and emotional protest continued throughout the morning and into the afternoon for the duration of the five-hour committee meeting.
Proponents of the city's westward expansion plan, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, argue that it is essential due to the natural growth of Jerusalem, with its notoriously high real estate prices, and is needed to combat continuing Jewish emigration.
But the environmentalist and green groups that oppose the plan say that it will irrevocably alter Jerusalem's historic vistas and destroy the remnants of green open spaces around the city.
The coterie of green groups - called The Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition - point to a study they commissioned which indicates that at least 60,000 housing units could be built in Jerusalem over the next two decades, arguing that the expansion of Jerusalem westward is unnecessary and would only lead to the neglect of the city itself.
But Safdie and proponents of the plan said that the number of apartments that could be built in the city was in fact far fewer, and that the gold-coast property in the city center would only be affordable to the affluent and visitors from abroad.
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.