The director general of the Justice Ministry pressured the National Planning and Building Council to reopen debate on a planned tourist center in East Jerusalem sponsored by Elad, a right-wing settlers’ organization.
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Emi Palmor took the unusual step of attending the meeting and speaking out against a previous decision by the council’s appeals committee. The council then voted overwhelmingly in favor of reopening the debate.
The appeals subcommittee had discussed objections to the establishment of Kedem Center, a large tourist facility proposed for Ma’aleh Silwan, not far from the Old City’s Dung Gate. The plan calls for a complex at the entrance to the City of David National Park, which Elad operates, as well as a visitor’s center, offices and museum. The center would sit on top of above archaeological excavations.
The appeals subcommittee voted to reduce the total area of the project, from 16,000 square meters to 10,000 square meters, by a single vote. The double vote of chairwoman Michal Bardenstein, representing the Justice Ministry, made the difference. Elad sought to overturn the vote with an administrative appeal on the grounds that one of the members had a conflict of interest, but the district court denied the appeal and ordered Elad to pay court costs.
A member of the appeals board recently requested an additional hearing on the issue in the council plenum. Council officials say the step is not exceptional but is rarely accepted. What was unusual in the hearing was the appearance of Palmor.
Moreover, Justice Ministry representatives traditionally defend decisions of the appeals committee, which they head. This time Palmor attacked the committee decision and supported an additional hearing. At the end of the meeting, the committee voted 18 to 2 for an additional hearing, to be held in the coming weeks.
“The Building and Planning Law states that cabinet members or their representatives should serve on the National Building and Planning Council,” the Justice Ministry said in a response. “The Justice Ministry director general takes seriously her role as representing the government on the council. She is in constant contact with her stand-ins, who participate regularly in meetings of the council and its subcommittees, is updated on matters raised for discussion and participated in past in the plenary of the national council. “
The ministry defended Palmor’s decision to attend the discussion about holding an additional hearing on Kedem Center. “This decision is not a technical planning one, but rather a question of government policy touching on strengthening the city of Jerusalem and its tourism,” it stated. “For this reason, the director general saw fit to participate in the discussion and express a principled decision, by which this type of policy issue be examined deeply by the national council’s plenum, which serves as a supreme planning institution and broadly weighs policy and planning considerations.”
The ministry added that the establishment of a new Druze community in northern Israel was also discussed at the meeting.