The city-owned Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation is pursuing plans to build a highway interchange in the southern part of the city in a way that precludes not only the need to obtain zoning approval but also the possibility for affected residents to submit objections or sue for damages.
The company drafted detailed plans for the interchange, but shelved them after it was required to perform an environmental impact study. Now the company plans to use a broader proposal from about 25 years ago. As a result, residents will not be able to submit objections to the plan.
The interchange will link the tunnel road from the Etzion Bloc of West Bank settlements south of the city to the Begin highway and Jerusalem’s southern Gilo neighborhood. It will complete a controversial section of the Begin Highway, which bisects the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, and will be just meters from homes there and in Gilo. At 12 lanes, it will be one of the biggest interchanges in the capital.
The original plans for the interchange are from the 1980s. They simply designate the location of the project, without specifying the structures to be built. But since a new plan is not being submitted, approval from the local or regional planning committees is unnecessary and there is no mechanism for registering objections or submitting damage claims.
During the legal battle over the Beit Safafa road, the city and the corporation argued that the approval in principle given in 1990 for a six-lane highway at that location was sufficient basis for building the interchange. Residents of Beit Safafa and their local government claimed the plan was too general and discriminated against Beit Safafa, because all of the other proposed highways in the city were based on detailed plans that allowed for legal challenges and compensation claims. A district court found in favor of the city, but the ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court. The court has heard the case but has not yet ruled on it.
Aviv Tatarsky of Ir Amim, an advocacy organization promoting equality between Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem, said he was surprised the interchange plan was being pursued and that the entire city will pay the price if it is carried out.
The municipality and the development corporation declined to answer questions from Haaretz, but in a statement Moriah said it is carrying out work on the Begin South Highway in accordance with plans that have legal approval and in accordance with legal advice it received.