Environment Minister: If Elected Mayor, I Won't Preserve Jerusalem's Green Area

Zeev Elkin is the only mayoral candidate who supports construction of the new neighborhood on the hill of Mitzpeh Naftoah, considered important from an ecological standpoint

Environmental Protection Minister and mayoral candidate Zeev Elkin, in Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

Environmental Protection Minister and mayoral candidate Zeev Elkin supports the construction of new neighborhoods on the western edge of Jerusalem on what is now open, green space, according to a survey conducted by the Sustainable Jerusalem environmental coalition. 

Elkin, who also holds the Jerusalem Affairs portfolio, has recently made a number of comments supporting the building of new residential neighborhoods and expanding Jerusalem westward, also known as the Safdie plan – named after world-famous architect Moshe Safdie – and which was rejected after a broad campaign was launched against it by environmental organizations.

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Elkin is the only mayoral candidate who supports construction of the new neighborhood on the hill of Mitzpeh Naftoah near the Ramot neighborhood in northwest Jerusalem. The hill is considered to be especially important from an ecological standpoint.

The other candidates, however, have expressed more reserved support for building in open areas, Sustainable Jerusalem states.

Lavan Ridge on the far western border of Jerusalem, in September 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Most of the candidates, including Moshe Leon, Ofer Berkovitch and Rachel Azaria, support building thousands of new homes on the Lavan Ridge on the far western border of the capital, but also support making such construction conditional on part of the new neighborhood providing alternative space for the urban renewal of nearby neighborhoods, Kiryat Menahem and Kiryat Hayovel.

Headed by former deputy mayor Naomi Tsur, Sustainable Jerusalem brings together a number of organizations and activists on environmental matters.

Coalition members have met with all the mayoral candidates over the past few weeks – elections will be held at the end of October – except for Yossi Daitch, who did not find the time to meet. Candidates were asked identical questions on various environmental issues, transparency and sustainability in Jerusalem.

The Safdie plan would expand Jerusalem westward with massive residential construction on what is now open, green space. It was shelved in 2007 in what was one of the greatest victories of the capital’s environmental groups.

The current mayor, Nir Barket, opposes the plan, although a new plan to build homes on Lavan Ridge is now being advanced, which includes part of the original Safdie plan.

Environmental activists are worried that this is just the first step in resurrecting the entire plan and putting it back on the agenda of Jerusalem’s planning institutions.

Elkin has said “that he cannot preserve all the open space west of the city, even though he does not intend on bringing back the entire Safdie plan,” Sustainable Jerusalem reported.

“He sees no alternative but to build in Mitzpeh Naftoach and Lavan Ridge, but nonetheless he has expressed willingness to hold a special meeting on the matter and is willing to listen to other positions and change his mind if they are convincing,” the coalition said.

The biggest problem in Jerusalem is a lack of housing and, as a result, young couples are leaving the city, Elkin said. This is why it is necessary to build in open areas, he said. 

These statements match what Elkin told the Jerusalem association of contractors this week: The housing shortage requires a revolution in planning and “I am not afraid to say it, including in the western part of the city. Whoever thinks that it is possible to meet the needs and keep young families here without construction in the western part of the city is completely wrong. I told the environmental organizations this too – there is no other solution to the scope of construction Jerusalem needs,” he said.