The High Court of Justice yesterday criticized the agreement by which a private association, Elad, operates the City of David national park in Jerusalem, but said the agreement was legal.
The Jerusalem municipality told the court it supported adding a Palestinian to the steering committee that runs the park, located in Silwan, an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
The court made the ruling at yesterday's hearing of a petition by the Jerusalem organization Ir Amim and others against the running of the park by Elad, which is identified with the right wing.
Before the hearing, the state, represented by the Environmental Protection Ministry, said it believed the agreement was legal but that certain changes should be made when a new contract is signed, in March 2012.
The court agreed with the state's position and ordered the draft of the contract be brought before it.
The changes in the contract will apparently include a demand that Elad guides cease giving official guided tours of the park and find a way to keep the park open on Saturdays, with Elad, whose members are mainly Orthodox Jews, transferring the collection of entrance fees to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
The justices also leveled veiled criticism at the fact that Elad has a representative on the steering committee running the park, which has veto power over decision. The Jerusalem municipality recommended expanding the steering committee to include a representative of Silwan's Palestinian community but also noted that this would be impossible "in the current political circumstances."
Ir Amim attorney Michael Sfard said after the court's ruling: "From a secret agreeement we have moved to a situation in which there is supervision before the signing of the contract."
Attorney David Libai, representing Elad, said his client did not dispute the need to amend the contract, which had been in force for six years. However, he said: "The petition was an attempt to introduce political rivalries but it did not succeeed. The court ruled that the contract was legal." Sfard criticized the fact that Libai, who had been justice minsiter in the early 1990s, had ordered a committee to investigate how Elad had obtained rights over state property, which resulted in harsh criticism of Elad and the bodies that had cooperated with it.
Libai said he had grappled with the matter, stating, "if the issue had been the history of obtaining the rights I would not be here." Libai said he decided to represent Elad because "the work Elad is doing from a Jewish and a Zionist perspective is worthy of support."
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