A bump in the road

Dutch bank divests its interest in Jerusalem's LRT.

jerusalem light rail 298 (photo credit: )
jerusalem light rail 298
(photo credit: )
The Hague-based ASN Bank recently divested itself of its holdings in the French firm Veolia Transport (a key part of the CityPass consortium building Jerusalem's light rapid transit system), on the grounds that the project "is not in line with the United Nations demand to stop all support for Israel's settlement activities." On November 22 the first track was laid on the tramway's 13.8 km. Red Line, which will run from Pisgat Ze'ev to Mount Herzl. That route crosses the 1949 armistice line that divided the city until 1967 into Israeli and Jordanian sectors, joining parts of the city that Israel annexed following the Six Day War. The state-of-the-art LRT is slated to open January 5, 2009. ASN, which stands for Algemene Spaarbank Nederland (The General Savings Bank of the Netherlands), had held shares in Veolia, whose subsidiary Connex Israel has a 5 percent stake in the CityPass consortium. CityPass won the NIS 3.2 billion tender to build the tramline. Founded in 1960, ASN is a medium-sized bank with 250,000 clients, deposits totaling two billion euros and investments totaling 900 million euros in 2005. It considers itself an "ethical bank," and is therefore committed to investing only in projects that do not infringe on human or animal rights or harm the environment. In May 2006, several human rights organizations wrote to ASN claiming that Veolia's work on the LRT project violated international law because part of the railway will pass through "occupied territory" in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority also wrote to ASN, claiming that the railway's construction would have "devastating effects" on Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, as it would connect the "illegal settlements" of Pisgat Ze'ev and Neveh Ya'acov with the city center, and thereby sever East Jerusalem from the West Bank. The bank, together with the major Dutch non-governmental donor organization Interchurch Organization for Development Co-operation and the Amsterdam-based NGO A Different Jewish Voice urged the French multi-national corporation Veolia to end its involvement in the LRT project. Veolia replied that it was looking into the matter. This was not enough for the bank, and as a result, it decided last month to divest its shares in Veolia. The Palestinian Authority has long registered its objections to the Jerusalem LRT. PA President Mahmoud Abbas and French President Jacques Chirac discussed Veolia's partnership in the summer of 2005. In November last year, a delegation of the Palestinian Authority met ministers and members of parliament in France and the Netherlands concerning Veolia's role. The Jerusalem Mass Transit System Project, which is jointly run by the Transportation Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality, said ASN Bank's divestment was an internal CityPass affair, but stressed the LRT project is meant to serve all the city's residents, Jewish and Arab alike.