Jerusalem
Photo by Amos Biderman
Text size

"Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at Sunday's festive cabinet meeting, held at the Tower of David, in the Old City, in honor of Jerusalem Day. In the conciliatory spirit that has recently taken hold of him, Netanyahu added: "This creates a difficulty for the Palestinians, but with creativity and good will, a solution is possible."

Ghaleb Qaluti, a resident of the eastern part of the united city, would be happy to invite Netanyahu on a journey of creativity and a test of good will, to his small estate in French Hill (which is beyond Israel's June 1967 border ). The story of the Qalutis' abandoned one-story home on Ha'etzel Street reveals the mysterious "difficulty for the Palestinians" that is concealed behind "the unity of Jerusalem."

Urban Master Plan 12877, which proposes replacing the house with an eight-story building, has been bouncing between the local and district planning and building committees for three years. Ahmad Abu Hussein, who drew up the plans for the developer, went from one city clerk to another, amended the blueprints and complied with all the requirements. The Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee approved the plan for deposit to public review more than two years ago. The district committee, however, returned it to the local committee with three reservations.

The most problematic reservation, according to the district committee, was "the dramatic change in the character of the construction" - in other words, the metamorphosis of a "pastoral" one-story home into an eight-story building. The next part of the story is described in a letter dated May 12 that was sent by city councilman Yosef 'Pepe' Alalu (Meretz ) to the municipal engineer, Shlomo Eshkol. In it Alalu, who also chairs the city's oversight committee, noted that all the "reservations" were addressed satisfactorily by the city planner Amnon Arbel. A decision was made for the committee members to visit the site and see for themselves "the character of the construction" on Ha'etzel Street. Had they visited the site (or Google Earth ), they would have found buildings of eight, nine and 10 stories and realized that the abandoned stone house was an exception. But the committee passed on the field trip, and rejected the high-rise project.

And now, the latest chapter. At its most recent meeting, two weeks ago, the local zoning committee heard a building permit application that involved replacing existing buildings with six 10-story student dormitories. The site is about 200 meters from the Qaluti property, which remains abandoned. The project was approved unanimously. Allalu asked Eshkol whether Urban Plan 12877 was rejected because it was an Arab plan on Arab land, whereas the dormitory project is for Jewish construction on land owned by the Hebrew University. He is still waiting for an answer.

The offhand response issued to Haaretz by the spokesman of the united municipality on behalf of the chairman of the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee, Kobi Kahlon, did not offer a genuine explanation. "The only way to approve plans, according to the Planning and Building Law, is via the planning authorities, which rejected this plan," the spokesman noted, adding: "It is unnecessary and inappropriate to influence, in one manner or another, planning authorities that have already made a decision."

The explanation appears in the frank comments of councilman Yakir Segev, a party colleague of the united city's Mayor Nir Barkat and the holder of the municipality's East Jerusalem portfolio. In a newspaper interview a year ago Segev said: "We will not allow residents of the eastern part of the city to build as much as they need ... I don't think the most important task is to resolve the housing shortage in East Jerusalem."

This elected official went on to say: "At the end of the day, however politically incorrect it may be to say, we will also look at the demographic situation in Jerusalem to make sure that in another 20 years we don't wake up in an Arab city." And indeed, in the Palestinian neighborhoods of the capital that have a master plan, the permitted building density is much lower - 25 percent to 75 percent - than in the Jewish neighborhoods, where it is between 75 percent and 125 percent. Yet, the housing shortage did not improve the "demographic situation" in the city; since 1967, the Palestinian population has increased from 70,000 to around 270,000. This despite the fact that in the same period it received building permits for less than 15,000 residences. Netanyahu should think about creative solutions with more good will. For example, dividing Jerusalem. But how can a divided city be divided?

The world is our home

Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, of Yisrael Beiteinu, has a weakness for television cameras. The footage of his meeting early last year with then-Turkish ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Ogoz Celikul, who was made to sit on a low sofa, is surely used in schools of diplomacy throughout the world. Especially the scene where the host (a professional diplomat in his recent past ) whispered to reporters, in Hebrew, "Note that he is sitting in a lower chair ... that there is only an Israeli flag," and then added a request, "let them see that we aren't smiling." It turns out that Ayalon has not been weaned from the addictive medium. Prior to Independence Day, he appealed to the foreign diplomatic corps and asked ambassadors to record video greetings to Israel. The clips were posted to the deputy minister's website. Of course the diplomats may politely decline, but it's not nice to insult such an important host. "What's the problem?" Ayalon asked, "All I am did was ask the ambassadors to offer share their impressions from Israel." His spokesman added: "In light of the project's success, and numerous requests from ambassadors we didn't manage to include, we are seriously considering expanding it."