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(photo credit: Courtesy of SPNI)
Abroad-based coalition of MKs and Knesset lobby groups has called on the National Council for Planning and Construction of the Interior Ministry to freeze all further discussion of the Safdie Plan for the development of west Jerusalem.
The council is expected to approve the plan at a meeting scheduled for July 4.
In a special emergency session Tuesday, Labor Party MKs Matan Vilna'i and Colette Avital, heads of the Jerusalem lobby, and Michael Melchior (Meimad) and Dov Khenin (Hadash), heads of the environmental lobby, promised to pressure the government and the Knesset and to head a public campaign against the plan.
They were joined by former justice Shlomo Shoham, Knesset Future Generations commissioner, and more than a dozen MKs representing most of the Knesset factions.
Noting that the plan has the support of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, as well as powerful real-estate developers and construction companies, Vilna'i acknowledged, "This is going to be a very difficult political battle. But we must stop this plan which will be a disaster for Jerusalem and for the entire country." Formally known as Development Plan 37, the Safdie Plan, one of the largest developments ever drawn up in Israel, proposes construction of approximately 20,000 housing units and nearly 500,000 square meters of industrial and commercial space and infrastructure over 26 square kilometers of natural woodland and forests in the western part of the city.
This would create at least three new development zones - in Mount Heret, next to Mevaseret Zion; in the hilly and forested areas near Hadassah Medical Center; and to the south of Moshav Ora and Moshav Aminadav, on the Lavan Range.
In a potentially far-reaching precedent, the plan also calls for the cancellation of an existing national park, the Mount Heret National Park. The Nature and Parks Authority opposes this decision but does not have the authority to veto decisions taken by the council.
The controversial plan has generated opposition from environmental groups, scientists and politicians. All argue that the plan would cause irreparable damage to the Jerusalem hills and deal a "death blow" to the city of Jerusalem by diverting stronger populations into the newer neighborhoods.
Interior Minister Roni Bar-On voiced strong opposition to the Safdie Plan before being appointed to his current position; he has yet to make a statement on the plan since assuming the portfolio. Bar-On declined to attend the Knesset special session.
A spokesman for Bar-On told In Jerusalem, "Since the Minister had expressed his opinion in the past, until he receives a legal opinion regarding the issue of possible conflict of interest, he will not comment and will not deal with this topic." Similarly, Environment Minister Gideon Ezra's position is unclear, although his office did send representatives to the session. They intimated that the ministry's representatives to the National Council would vote against the plan.
Led by a coalition of environmental organizations, opponents to the plan submitted nearly 90 different objections, signed by more than 16,000 lay citizens and experts. In response, then-interior minister Ophir Paz-Pines appointed a special independent investigator, attorney Gideon Vitkon. After nearly six months of hearings and deliberations, Vitkon approved most of the plan's provisions.
Although the National Planning Council is not bound by law to accept Vitkon's recommendations, it is expected to do so at the July 4 meeting. This would leave opponents with few procedural or legal options.
Noting that the Safdie Plan originated from government decisions regarding the future of Jerusalem, Avital promised to work within the coalition to "reopen these debates." Avital further promised to lobby for a special Knesset session next week.
"The future of Jerusalem is in the balance," Avital said. "It is clear that the public opposes this plan, and we must make sure that the public's voice is heard."