By PEGGY CIDORBest-laid plans?From Mayor Nir Barkat’s perspective, it should have been a perfect day. After a respectful delay of about three months, following a request from the Prime Minister’s Office, Barkat’s plan for turning the Gan Hamelech (King’s Garden) area of Silwan into a tourist park was submitted to the Planning and Construction Committee. According to sources at Kikar Safra, during this period serious negotiations and talks between the municipality and the residents of Silwan led to the preparation of the plan.According to the plan, 22 of the 88 illegally built houses will be demolished and others will be built immediately on the eastern side of the valley, this time with plans and permits.All the illegal constructions on the upper side of the neighborhood will be presented to the Planning and Construction Committee to obtain retroactive permits (after submitting plans and engineers’ approvals), allowing residents to build up to four stories. As an outcome of the plan, the three upper stories of Beit Yehonatan will have to be sealed and remain unoccupied by Jewish residents. Barkat didn’t encounter any surprises from the committee. Its chairman, Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahlon, delivered the goods and saw that everything was approved.But the move unleashed a torrent of criticism, with State Department Spokesman P. J. Crowley telling reporters that the White House viewed Barkat’s plan as one that “undermines trust” needed for progress in negotiations with the Palestinians. In Washington this week for talks with US officials, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the plan “lacked common sense” and a “sense of timing.”The mayor’s office released a statement in defense of the plan, claiming that Barak “was acting without checking the facts” instead of helping the municipality deal with years of neglect in east Jerusalem.En route to the opposition?Victories are sometimes very short, especially in political life. That is what Mayor Nir Barkat perhaps realized on Monday when, following the remarkably easy – though quite expected – approval by the local planning committee of his plan for Silwan, things began to go sour. First came the reactions of the press which, despite all the efforts deployed by the municipality, presented the plan as a means to demolish Arab houses in Silwan.And the local Meretz Party, despite being part of the mayor’s coalition, voted against the plan. The reaction from the sixth floor at Kikar Safra didn’t take long. Less than six hours after the vote, a spokesman for the mayor issued a press release announcing that he had decided to withdraw all their authority as members of the coalition. Asked what the decision would change in his status, Deputy Mayor and Meretz party chairman Pepe Alalu responded that he didn’t have a clue. Later he added that in that case, he and his fellow members were not part of the coalition anymore. It is worth noting that in the press release, Barkat accused Meretz of displaying shameful disdain for their duties by also voting against his plan for affordable housing, presented the week before. Meir Margalit and Alalu had voted against the plan on the grounds that Barkat was going to use the money of the shut-down Prazot company to finance his plan. They accused him of confusing affordable housing for young working families with subsidized housing for the needy. And there was light!The second annual Light Festival of Jerusalem, which took place in the Old City, was an outstanding success. Light sculptures, presentations and other artistic stands were displayed for the pleasure of some 300,000 visitors. A joint effort of the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Tourism Ministry, produced by the Ariel authority, the festival drew hordes of visitors to the Old City – a sight that, according to the organizers, had not been seen here for quite some time. Some 70 artists participated in the festival. According to Reuven Pinsky, in charge of the Old City basin at theJerusalem Development Authority, these are the first steps being takento attract local and foreign tourists to the Old City again.Very French and poeticLooking for some interesting entertainment in the downtown area onFriday afternoon? Between 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at Nahalat Shiva andKikar Hahatulot, you can join the Fete de la Musique, another party inthe long string of summer events at various downtown locations,sponsored by the Youth Authority at the Municipality, and in this caseCentre Romain Gary – the French Cultural Center of Jerusalem.If you don’t appreciate loud music, you might prefer a poetry encounterat the Confederation House, where Chava Pinhas-Cohen and Michal Guvrinwill present their poems and pay tribute to late poets Rahel and LeahGoldberg. Young singers will put their words to music. The program wasconceived by poet Yehoram “Pichi” Meir, who passed away recently.
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