moshe safdie 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A controversial building plan, which would expand Jerusalem westward over the bitter objection of environmentalists, was only drawn up after the government made a political decision not to expand the city to the east, the plan's chief architect said Sunday.
The 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.
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"If the government had decided to make a building plan to the east of Jerusalem, they never would have approached me to make a plan for the expansion of the city westward," Safdie said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
The proposal, which has been on the drawing boards for much of the last decade and which has the backing of the Jerusalem Municipality, is pending final approval Tuesday by the Interior Ministry's national planning and building committee.
The committee had previously put off a final decision on the proposal last year.
Safdie, clearly piqued by the criticism of his plan, said he refused to take sides in the debate, suggesting it should be left to the public domain.
Last month, in an unusual show of cross-party unity, 50 Knesset members from across the political spectrum joined forces in opposition to the plan. The parliamentarians who have signed the petition against the building plan come from all the Knesset parties, and include both left-wing and right-wing legislators, and a rare mix of secular, religious, and haredi parties.
The green groups who are opposed to the plan - in what has become the largest environmental struggle in Israel in years - presented the petition on Sunday to Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, and are planning a Tuesday morning protest outside the Interior Ministry offices adjacent to the Prime Minister's Office during the critical committee meeting.
The committee, which is an independent body, has 31 members, including eight public-appointed officials.
A last-minute and still pending petition to the High Court of Justice was filed by an environmental group against Tuesday's planned meeting because at least two of the slots reserved for public officials have not been filled.
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.
The plan to expand Jerusalem westward in the face of mounting opposition gathered steam in the wake of the government's decision to freeze an alternate decades-old proposal to expand Jerusalem eastward to the nearby West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.
That eastward expansion plan, commonly known as E1, was frozen last year in the wake of American pressure not to build in the West Bank.
Safdie said that political reality indicated there was "very little" chance that the eastward expansion proposal would ever be approved,
adding that its proposed size was also more limited.
He asserted that Ma'aleh Adumim was not in the national consensus - especially in world opinion -and that building between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim would cut off Palestinian territorial continuity in the West Bank.
"The people who are against the westward plan are rightists who want to build to the east, and green-loving bleeding heart leftists," Safdie said.
He asserted that he was unaware that haredi parties were against the plan as well.
The government's decision to freeze the expansion of Jerusalem eastward led an external consultant to endorse the westward expansion of the city in its stead, as part of an ongoing effort to buttress the dwindling Jewish population of Jerusalem.
The environmentalist and green groups say it will irrevocably alter the city's historic vistas and destroy the remnants of green open spaces around the city.
The coterie of green groups, called The Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition, also point to a study they commissioned which indicates that at least 68,000 housing units could be built in Jerusalem over the next two decades, arguing that the westward expansion is simply unnecessary.
Safdie said there was limited space to build in Jerusalem, and that the luxury property in the city center is only affordable to the affluent, and visitors from abroad.
But a separate independent study, carried out last year by some of the city's senior researchers and demographers concluded that the plan is detrimental to the development of the city and will only serve to irrevocably weaken the capital.