Watchdog groups challenge incoming planning head over Holyland involvement
The Union for Environmental Defense and The Movement for Quality Government claim Binat Schwartz's appointment to the sensitive position is flawed because of her involvement in plans for the Holyland project.
Two watchdog agencies asked State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss last week to investigate the pending appointment of a leading candidate as the Interior Ministry's head of planning administration.
The Union for Environmental Defense and The Movement for Quality Government claim Binat Schwartz's appointment to the sensitive position is flawed because of her involvement in plans for the Holyland project, a luxury housing project in Jerusalem that became mired in corruption suspicions last year.
The groups turned to Lindenstrauss after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein turned down their request two weeks ago to reconsider Schwartz.
Weinstein said there was no obstacle to Schwartz's candidacy, which the cabinet is expected to approve in a few weeks.
Eight years ago, Schwartz, as chief planner for the Jerusalem district, took part in meetings that led to preliminary approval of the Holyland project. Seven years ago, she was present at a meeting in which final approval was given for the plan, and during which the residential space was increased at the expense of areas that were supposed to have been set aside for tourism.
The watchdog groups say no reason was given for the change, which gave the developers a considerable economic advantage.
The State Prosecutor's Office announced three months ago it will be charging a number of public officials for accepting or receiving bribes in the Holyland affair.
The two groups told Weinstein they do not suspect Schwartz of criminal wrongdoing, but of failures in her professional capacity at the time.
Four months ago, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Council froze the Holyland project, including the phase planned during Schwartz's term.
Weinstein told the groups that Schwartz had acted according to directives from the planning institutions' legal advisers.
Schwartz declined to comment for this report.