This week in Jerusalem: Birthday gift

Peggy Cidor's round-up of weekly affairs in the capital.

ISRAEL KATZ : If we neutralize Iranian influence in Lebanon,  it can go back to being a normal country (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
ISRAEL KATZ : If we neutralize Iranian influence in Lebanon, it can go back to being a normal country
Birthday gift
At the traditional annual festive meeting held this past Sunday at Ammunition Hill to mark the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967, the government allocated NIS 2 billion to improve infrastructure, municipal services, education and welfare in the east side of the city. NIS 200 million will come from the municipality, NIS 850m. from a range of ministries and NIS 950m. from a special Finance Ministry budget.
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a mayoral candidate, initiated the plan – only four months after the high-profile struggle between Mayor Nir Barkat and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon over NIS 800m. for the city.
Part of the funds will help tackle the thorny issue of property registration in the city’s eastern neighborhoods and in the Old City. The lack of plot registration (nobody seems to know who owns most of the plots in parts of the city) is a key reason for the difficulty to obtain construction permits, spurring illegal construction among the Arab residents of those areas. Another target of the funds is to address gaps between the two parts of the city.
Some 75% of Arab residents live in poverty, compared to 29% of Jews. Some of the funding is conditional. For example, only high schools that offer Israeli matriculation exams – instead of sticking to the Palestinian curriculum – are eligible. There is already a trend for Arab students to choose the Israeli tests, since they realize that only Israeli matriculation qualifies them to study at the Hebrew University or one of the academic colleges in the city.
One of the goals of this plan is to encourage young Arab residents to go to Israeli academic institutions; NIS 260m. is designated for that purpose.
Not on the agenda
The Planning and Construction committee was expected to announce its decision on Sunday regarding the route of the light rail line on Emek Refaim Street.
The meeting took place, but the district planner, Shira Talmi, surprisingly removed this issue from the agenda.
Sources at Safra Square attribute the move to heavy pressure from Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud), who is said to prefer routing that section of the light rail on Harakevet Street. After visiting the location a few weeks ago, he apparently concluded routing the path on Emek Refaim would cause too much damage.
The residents association proposes routing the line through a tunnel, but leaks from the committee indicate that the tunnel option was found to be too expensive. The association denies allegations that the tunnel would significantly damage the nearby Mesila Park.
Mayor Nir Barkat and the Master Plan team are said to favor the original plan on Emek Refaim, but Katz’s scaled-up involvement is influencing the outcome.
No date has been set for the next meeting.
Battle for a station
Mayor Nir Barkat summoned the city council for a special Wednesday evening session regarding the request submitted by the haredi lists to halt Shabbat activities at the First Station.
Deputy Mayor Itzhak Pindrus (United Torah) notes that the site is in violation of the permit regulations for public venues; representatives of non-haredi lists and organizations have launched a public campaign calling on residents to act to keep the Shabbat activities going.
Haredi figures insist that they are not seeking to close down the First Station on Shabbat. “We wish we could, but that is not our request,” said a source.
The situation is complex. The First Station is situated on land still zoned for public use as a railway station, hence is public property. In order to function as a business and entertainment venue, the owners must obtain approval from the Planning and Construction committee.
“That has never been done, despite our repeated requests,” says Pindrus, explaining that since the plot belongs to three different owners who cannot agree on a range of relevant issues, no plan has been submitted.
Temporary permits have been issued until now, giving the parties more time to reach an agreement, but haredi council members are unwilling to postpone the matter indefinitely, particularly with elections in the offing. Moreover, the municipality has recently agreed to finance First Station activities on Shabbat, and that, says Pindrus, was the last straw that moved them to press for a lawful resolution.
Non-haredi activists feel under attack, resulting in a mobilization of forces on all sides.