East Jerusalem Plan Was Supposed to Be Shelved, So What Happened?

Objections to Ramat Shlomo building rose as it would have penetrated into a Palestinian neighborhood.

A Jerusalem municipal engineer recused himself from a District Committee meeting discussing the building plans for Ramat Shlomo due to a conflict of interests. Despite that, the engineer was still able to force his will upon the committee, which approved the plan, at the worst possible time.

The Moriah Company and the Israel Lands Administration had assigned the job of planning the expansive complex to Shlomo Eshkol and Eli Reches.

In May 2006, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee recommended to the District Committee that the Ramat Shlomo plan be shelved. In September 2007, Eshkol parted ways with Reches and moved into the office of the Jerusalem municipal engineer.

The first hearing on the designation of the area set for construction took place in the district committee on June 10, 2008, as part of a discussion of the overall master plan for Jerusalem. In addition to the building plan for Israel Lands Administration lands, it turns out, the municipal engineer's representatives sought to approve, as part of the same plan, dense construction on 100 dunams of private land acquired by ultra-Orthodox developers.

The firm of Eshkol-Reches, at the time, was also commissioned by the ultra-Orthodox developers to plan construction for this area.

To avoid a conflict of interests, Eshkol left the room while the committee discussed the two parts of the plan for Ramat Shlomo. A representative of the Israel Lands Administration objected to approving construction on the privately-owned land, saying that the neighborhood would penetrate in an illogical fashion into the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, which borders on Ramat Shlomo.

Other members presented similar positions and the committee decided by a majority that the two complexes, the public and the private, "would be designated as open space."

At the end of the discussion of the plan, Eshkol was invited back into the meeting room. When he learned of the decision, he angrily instructed the municipality's representative and the author of the new master plan to end the meeting.

From that time until the visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the plan went back and forth between the municipal engineer and the district planner. The committee not only upended ties with the United States; it upended the decision of June 2008.

The members adopted the municipal engineer's plan and changed the designation of the land in the master plan from open green space to an area for residential construction.

The proposal also covered an area that juts into the Beit Hanina neighborhood. At this meeting they discussed and approved only the public segment (Israel Lands Administration lands). The panhandle of private lands that the firm of Reches, formerly Eshkol-Reches, placed by Beit Hanina will probably have to wait until quieter times.

"From the moment he assumed the job, Mr. Eshkol was not present at any discussion or consultation on the Ramat Shlomo plan," a municipality spokesman said. "During 2008, there were dozens of hearings in the district committee on the matter of the Jerusalem master plan. The hearings included arguments and professional deliberations until they were finalized in a discussion in late 2008, where the master plan was approved for submission. Municipality representatives stopped a discussion focusing on the entire northern part of the city and not to the specific Ramat Shlomo plan, until there could be clarification after which the development plans were authorized, in accordance with approval of the master plan under the responsibility of the district committee."

This response does not correspond with verified accounts and detailed maps that are in Haaretz's possession. The State Comptroller is hereby invited to begin an investigation.

A prophet walked the land

The eulogies, which focused on his exploits as a Mossad spymaster turned diplomat, did not do justice to the efforts of Dr. David Kimchi. In a conversation I had with him in June 2007, on the occasion of 40 years since the Six-Day War, I discovered that there is no operation that Dave is more proud of than his peace initiative of June 1967. Nine days after the outbreak of the war, reserve intelligence officer Kimchi and his friend, Dan Bavli, formulated the idea of two states, Israel and Palestine, living alongside each other in peace and security.

In this document, which they prepared after a series of meetings with Palestinian figures, headed by attorney Aziz Shehadeh, they suggested establishing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The new state, they wrote, would be connected to Israel via defense, economic and tourism agreements and others. It would not have an army, only a police force and the Israel Defense Forces would secure the Jordan Valley, alone, or in joint patrols with Palestinian forces.

Before the first Israeli brick was laid down in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and after they checked the idea with the Palestinian leaders, Kimchi and Bavli wrote, together with two colleagues from the intelligence community, Yitzhak Oron and Aluf Hareven, who joined the initiative, the following lines: "Jerusalem will be annexed to Israel, with a special status for the holy sites, and an auxiliary municipality will be set up for the Arab part of the Old City. The Palestinian state will establish its capital at the closest possible point to Jerusalem."

The young officers even thought of a territorial exchange: annexing the Latrun salient and the Gilboa mountain range in return for concession of several Arab villages in Israel's territory.

Later on, as he contributed his great understanding to peace and conciliation efforts, Kimchi dropped this idea.

Copies of the document were presented to prime minister Levi Eshkol, defense minister Moshe Dayan and ministers Pinhas Sapir, Yigal Allon and Israel Galili.

Kimchi told me that Shimon Peres was one of the people who convinced the Mapai leadership to stick to the Jordanian option, and regretfully concluded "this was a rare opportunity that was missed, even for a state accustomed to not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity."