Planning Body Puts Controversial Jerusalem Visitor Center on Hold

Conflict of interest mars the proceedings; opponents hope the next government will block the plan.

AFP

The National Planning and Building Council has postponed a decision on whether to set up a visitor center in Arab East Jerusalem because of a conflict of interest among one of its members.

The council on Thursday ended its discussion on the controversial Kedem visitor center being planned by right-wing group Elad for the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

The council will hold its next meeting in May, two months after next week’s election that will lead to the formation of a new government. Opponents hope the new government will move to block the plan.

The Kedem center is designed to be a 16,000-square-meter (172,000 square feet), seven-story building overlooking Silwan, roughly 20 meters (66 feet) from Old City walls. According to the plan, the building will feature a floor devoted to archaeology, a large parking lot, classrooms, exhibition rooms, an auditorium, a gift shop, a restaurant, offices and a museum.

Opponents of the plan include Silwan residents, architects, religious leaders and archaeologists. They say the building would damage the area’s archaeological legacy and mar the view of the Old City walls, while not accounting for the needs of the Arab community. They say it would be a dangerous precedent of private construction in Jerusalem’s most sensitive area.

Petitions filed against the plan were also discussed at Thursday's meeting, where Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat spoke.

Although Barkat rarely appears at planning-committee meetings, this is the second time he has shown up to defend the plan, which he says is vital for increasing tourism in the area.

After Barkat left, an official from the Environmental Protection Ministry on the council, Shahar Solar, noted that his father Giora Solar was the project’s conservation architect, which creates a conflict of interest.

Following the announcement, a lawyer for NGO Ir Amim and archaeologist Yoni Mizrahi of archaeology NGO Emek Shaveh requested that the discussion be halted.