'The mayor has taken us totally by surprise," the spokeswoman for the Coalition for a Sustainable Jerusalem said in response to the mayor's announcement that he is freezing the Safdie Plan. "The Greens think that the only problem is the rabbit that the mayor pulled out of his hat," responds one of the project's major supporters, who was also surprised by Mayor Uri Lupiolianski's announcement last Friday. "But," he adds, "We may soon find out that behind the rabbit there's a goat hiding, and the question is when are we going to see it and above all, how shall we get rid of this goat?" Although we're talking about an environment and nature issue, it is by no means a question of rabbits or goats: the project of development in the west of the city, including several highly important landscape and nature spots known as the Safdie Plan, has taken a sharp turn after being on the top of the public's agenda for more than three years. To say that Lupolianski's announcement was a surprise is a major understatement - no one, besides his two closest assistants, knew about his decision. No one in this case includes municipal general-manager Eitan Meir, vice mayor and head of the local planning council Rabbi Yehoshua Pollack and even Ezri Levy, the head of the Jerusalem Developmental Authority (Harashut Lepituah Yerushalayim or "Harly"), who was actually in charge of implementing the project. They all learned about the mayor's decision from the media, and thus needless to say, feel lots of anger. In one case at least, the words used were "I feel betrayed." According to sources in Harly, the only explanation for the astonishing change in Lupolianski's position - who until now was a strong supporter of the project - is that it was the only way to assure that construction projects for the haredi population wouldn't be jeopardized. "The National Commission, which is still discussing the issue and which has the final word, was on the verge of reaching a final decision," says a high-ranking Harly official. "The decision almost reached was that the project as it is would be canceled, but a part of it, in those places where there are already buildings, would get authorization." "This means that where there is already a constructed area, there will be a permit to build more habitation units," he explains. "In this case, beside one spot, all the projects would have been for the non-haredi population. One of the members of the commission was opposed to that decision, and since he had the deciding vote, the whole idea fell through. In fact, we are pretty sure that the commission would have issued a final decision to cancel the project completely." "If it is true, and we have all the reasons to believe it, it means that the Greens didn't need Lupolianski's help and they just reacted to a spin," says a source in the municipality who strongly supported the project. "We haven't fallen into any spin," states Uri Bar-Shishat firmly, the independent consultant who provided the Greens coalition with what is commonly known as the "alternative plan to save Jerusalem." According to Bar-Shishat's work, there are 55,000 to 60,000 housing units available inside the border of the city, including projects for haredim and for young secular couples, without the need to touch or harm even one tree or plant in the environment. "I am familiar with Bar-Shishat's plan," retorts Levy. "In its first draft it was 112,000 units. Then it came down to 88,000 units and now we've reached 50-60,000 units. I think I'll wait for the next proposal before I decide if it's a serious thing." Levy has been since the very beginning one of the most eloquent and faithful supporters of the Safdie Plan. He strongly believes that without it, "Jerusalem has no future and perhaps even no present. The city will agonize and become a remote village for haredim, the needy and Arabs only." Bar-Shishat insists that he shares with Levy and all the other supporters of the Safdie Plan the same concern for the sustainability of Jerusalem. "Jerusalem is a capital, a living city open for all, including secular, religious, olim and Arabs, but first of all, it is a city that has to preserve its special characteristics and atmosphere, and its environment and green resources," he says. "The main issue of the controversy is that one side says we do not have locations to construct housing facilities, so we ought to go outside the city. The other side says: yes we do, and it's inside the city," he continues. "I knew that I had to show proof of our statement. I am not a part of the coalition. I prepared a proposal for them, I am an independent consultant and my position is first of all a professional one." Bar-Shishat's plan includes a list of housing projects that are already in various stages of permits, all on public plots and lands and in surroundings that do not need infrastructures since they are all in habited neighborhoods:
Har Homa: 5,000 units approved and still not constructed.
Givat Hamatos: 2,500 units, the project will soon be presented at the Construction and Planning Committee
Mitzpe Neftoah: 1,800 units
Derech Hebron (land belonging to Kibbutz Ramat Rahel): 1,000 units
Ramot: 800 units
Old Foreign Ministry Compound: 700 units
Ramat Rahelim (Arnona): 500 units
Beitar plot (Bayit Vegan): 500 units
Taylor compound (Kiryat Hayovel): 500 units
The Antenna Hill (opposite Bayit Vegan): 500 units (for haredim)
The Golomb Project (facing Ramat Danya) 450 units
Bar-Shishat says that there are a few more projects that have already begun or will soon be approved:
the Hadassah compound: 2,400 units
the Schneller compound (Geula): 600 units
the Sitona'i Market compound in Givat Shaul: 600 units
the Railway compound (at the branch between Beit Lehem and Emek Refaim streets): 600 units
Nof Zion (for wealthy Jews living abroad) 500 units
Mekor Haim: 400 units
Romema (near the Channel One bulding) for haredim: 360 units
East Talpiot: 1,000 units
Pisgat Ze'ev (Mir Project for haredim): 1,400 units
Kiryat Hayovel (facing Ein Kerem): 500 units
Next to the International Convention Center: 300 units
Givat Shaul (the Azulay plot, for haredim): 1,800 units
Romema (for haredim): 2,500 units
"Most of those projects can be achieved between now and up to 10 years, perhaps for one or two of them it could take up to 15 years," he adds. "But these are all projects included in the master plan for Jerusalem, they do not need special investments for infrastructure - you don't have to carve tunnels in the rocks, build bridges and above all, they do not jeopardize nature. They will not hurt one tree, one hill or one wadi around us. The program that Mayor Lupolianski has accepted with the representatives of the Green coalition specifies that 'Jerusalem will stay a city surrounded by mountains' - meaning we will not build anything on the hills and mountains surrounding Jerusalem. That means, for example, that the "Alona project" which is a building project exclusively for haredim, cannot be realized. Lupolianski signed this document, what else do we need?"
Needless to say, the supporters of the Safdie Plan see things totally differently.
"This is the result of an unholy alliance between leftist nature-lovers and frustrated right-wingers" says Levy. "On one side you have those who, in order to preserve even the most remote kind of animal, are ready to paralyze everything. On the other side, you have those who'd prefer to build more on the eastern side, but cannot do it because it's not possible anymore for obvious political reasons. And in between, you have the haredi population, who cannot afford the price of apartments in the city and are heart-broken because their children have to go and live elsewhere."
He continues: "And because of this unique situation, when haredim, leftist and right-wingers want, for different reasons, to stay inside the city, we are now facing the eradication of the last and only chance we had to see young, secular, educated people choose Jerusalem as their home. They will not come here, and Jerusalem will not make it through this."
For some high-ranking officials at the municipality, there is even more frustration and anger: "At a very low price, Mayor Lupolianski has gained lots of support from the public, especially in the circles of the secular-nature-lovers-leftist-post-everything, who now see him as their hero. They just don't understand that while most of the citizens who have left the city are haredim (because of the high price of housing), the road is open for the few haredim housing projects possible after freezing the Safdie Plan. From now on, it will be the opposite: the secular, young and educated will leave more than ever. Haredim will have, at last, an option to stay here. When they will understand this it will be too late."
The mayor has always tried to procure cheap housing for young people who might leave the city, City Hall spokesman Gidi Shmerling responds.
"The Safdie Plan was a means, but is not the end," he said in a statement to In Jerusalem. "Research carried out by the city, on the mayor's instruction, found that implementing the Safdie Plan would take many years. At the same time, the research the mayor initiated shows that if the Greens removed their objection, it would be possible to build thousands of units immediately. In light of these findings, the mayor has decided to freeze the Safdie Plan in the aim of helping the young population in whom he sees the city's future."