When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Levrov met here June 27, their agenda included the issue of the construction of a new downtown courthouse here and how much compensation Moscow will pay to regain several historic Czarist-era buildings in the Russian Compound now occupied by the Israeli judiciary and government offices. Olmert's adviser Miri Eisen wouldn't confirm that the Russians have agreed to contribute $100 million to the project. Last month in a special session of the Knesset that marked 40 years since the reunification of Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the construction of the capital's new courthouse and government complex on Rehov Hillel facing Independence Park. The announcement was part of a $5.5 billion pledge in government funding for urban development projects in Jerusalem. Plans call for 11 different courts, judicial bodies and government ministries currently scattered across the city to be consolidated downtown in a single building. These will include the two lower bodies of the three-tier secular courts system: the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court and the Jerusalem District Court. The latter is located on Salah a-Din Street in east Jerusalem, while the magistrate's court is currently housed in the Duhovnia Russian Mission Building in the Russian Compound, of which Moscow will regain control once the new courthouse is finished. The complex will also include the labor court and family court. As reported in In Jerusalem ("The lease of our problems," October 27, 2006), the Israeli and Russian governments have been negotiating the return of several key Russian Compound buildings to the control of the Russian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem in exchange for investment in the construction of the new courthouse. Israel acquired the Russian church assets, part of the so-called Russian Compound built during the waning years of Czarist rule, from the Khrushchev government in 1964 for a shipment of citrus fruit, in what came to be known as the "orange deal." While construction of the courthouse is expected to cost $95 million, the amount of monetary compensation Israel is demanding from Russia to build the new building - and vacate the old one - remains a closely guarded secret. The courthouse site is currently occupied by the Meled School - a secondary school for dropouts from observant and traditional homes, and an institution for deaf and hearing impaired children. The site faces the long-stalled Museum of Tolerance project which the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center is seeking to build on a decommissioned Muslim cemetery. Time frames for the 60,000 sq.m. courthouse complex are vague but Asaf Vitman of the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) ventured that the building would be completed by 2012. Two architecture firms from Haifa and Jerusalem currently remain in the competition to design the complex, he added. The hope is that lawyers' offices located in residential buildings in Rehavia will relocate downtown to be close to the courthouse, Vitman said. The massive courthouse, which will bring thousands of workers into the area every day, is part of the JDA's far more ambitious plans to revitalize the city center. These include turning congested Jaffa Road into a promenade shared by pedestrians and the light rail - slated to open in the spring of 2009, and the moving of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design to the Russian Compound. Bezalel is slated to announce the winner of its architecture design competition on July 12. The courthouse project will not include the Supreme Court, also called the High Court of Justice, which relocated from the Russian Compound to the Kiryat David Ben-Gurion government center in 1992.

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