Expanding Jerusalem is more than an urban planning issue. The test will be what happens in E1.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Recommendations for the future expansion of Jerusalem westward rather than to the north or east, or by somehow "thickening" the population, were proposed last week. The so-called Safdie Plan has been a contentious issue for several years between the Jerusalem municipality and developers on the one hand, and Greens and suburban communities to the west of the capital on the other.
The issue was turned over to Gideon Witkon, former head of the Israel Lands Authority, for further study. His recommendations approving zoning for and building an additional 18,000 housing units to the west of the present city limits will be submitted to the National Council for Planning and Building, and eventually to the government. The need for additional building beyond the deep ravines which make up the natural western limits of the mountainous city is predicated on projections for the growth of the population to about 960,000 by the year 2020, while ensuring a Jewish majority of at least 60%.
Opposition to the Safdie plan comes from a coalition of Green organizations into the Coalition for the Preservation of the Jerusalem Mountains (one of the major beauty spots of Israel's central spine) and a number of suburbs populated primarily by secular, middle-class families who have fled Jerusalem's growing haredization and poverty.
The recommendations call for the construction of 7,400 housing units on the mountainside which borders the suburb of Mevaseret Zion, and another 10,500 units on the mountainside which looms over the urbanized moshavim of Ora and Aminadav, as well as the Hadassah Medical Center.
After years of public debate over the issue a new aspect has been added to the stand-off because it turns out that the direction of the city's growth has serious political connotations. Do we expand in the direction of the West Bank or the coastal plain?
FOR AN Israeli government to say yes to the expansion westward toward Mevaseret may mean saying no to expansion over the Green Line northward toward Givat Ze'ev, or eastward to fill up the E1 corridor linking Ma'aleh Adumim in nearby Judea to Jerusalem.
A related concern is demographic. Should Jerusalem be encouraged to grow to a population of close to one million? Is this the only way a Jewish majority can be guaranteed in the face of the Palestinian demographic powerhouse?
And if not, are we, de facto, embracing the division of Jerusalem - the biggest no-no in Israeli politics?
In carrying out the disengagement from Gush Katif last summer, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated his determination not to go down the unilateral disengagement track again. In that sense E-1 has become a symbol. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came out with a forceful statement of American opposition to Israel's building in E-1 which would establish Israeli territorial continuity with Ma'aleh Adumim.
Sharon had declared that Israeli building activities in E-1 would begin with the construction of a police headquarters, and sent Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz to reiterate that pledge. On the other hand, Sharon's closest political ally, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who had been mayor of Jerusalem in the 1990s, reportedly testified before Witkon that it was impossible to predict a geopolitical scenario that would enable the expansion of Jerusalem toward Givat Ze'ev or Ma'aleh Adumim, rather than westward.
All that mumbling and grumbling may have passed relatively quietly last summer, but now it is election season. Not only is there a campaign, but Sharon and Mofaz are in opposing parties - Sharon in his breakaway Kadima and Mofaz in the rump Likud.
And, to the best of my knowledge, not one spadeful of dirt has been moved in E-1.
THE DEMOGRAPHIC and urban expansion issues have been known to Israeli leaders for the past two decades. The leaders of Israel's governing parties hoped that the supercharged issues connected with Jerusalem would be left for the end of the "peace process," or whatever happens in the absence of such a process.
The Witkon Report and the future of construction activities in E-1 do not sound like particularly sexy election issues. But Ariel Sharon, whoever ends up leading the Likud and Amir Peretz will find these issues will have to be addressed head-on during the next four months before elections. As I noted in my previous column, the Gush Katif withdrawal was not entirely unilateral. The expected tacit quid pro quo was supposed to come from the Americans rather than the Palestinians. Expansion of greater Jerusalem toward Ma'aleh Adumin was supposed to have been that quid pro quo.
If George Bush now turns his back on Sharon as the campaign heats up, he'll be sending a message to Israeli voters - and to Sharon.