Right-wing Master Plan Envisages mega-Jerusalem in 2040 - With Invisible Palestinians

Dubbed Jerusalem 5800, plan envisions a giant international airport near Jericho, a railway from Ramallah, and even a Biblical park.

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An aerial view shows the Dome of the Rock (R) on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, and the Western Wall (L) in Jerusalem's Old City October 10, 2006.
An aerial view shows the Dome of the Rock (R) on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, and the Western Wall (L) in Jerusalem's Old City October 10, 2006.Credit: Eliana Aponte / Reuters
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

A daring new master plan for Jerusalem envisions a giant international airport near Jericho, a railway line from Ramallah, a huge commercial and employment area near Qalandiya, a Biblical park in the Refa’im nature reserve, ring roads and dozens of new hotels.

The project, dubbed Jerusalem 5800 (after the Hebrew calendar year), is destined for the year 2040. The plan has recently been completed as a private initiative of Australian Jewish philanthropist and businessman Kevin Bermeister. The planners say it doesn’t deal with the city’s political problems, but many see it as the right wing’s attempt to draft a future vision of the city, as an alternative to dividing it between two states.

The planners envision Jerusalem as a thriving world city inhabiting 5 million people and visited by 12 million tourists a year. It will be full of tourist attractions, hotels and advanced means of transportation and adhere to rigid environmental principles.

The plan’s most outstanding aspect, according to its critics, is its denial of Jerusalem’s political situation. The plan sees Jerusalem as a metropolis whose boundaries extend far beyond the existing municipal lines. The boundaries of Jerusalem 5800 include Modi’in and the Etzion bloc, Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah.

“The idea was to view Jerusalem in the way it should be,” says project manager Udi Regunas, a former member of the rightist Elad NGO and former CEO of the newspaper Makor Rishon and deputy CEO of Maariv.

A Palestinian boy sits in the yard of his house, back-dropped by the Israeli housing development, Har Homa, in East Jerusalem, September 2009.Credit: Bernat Armangue / AP

The plan doesn’t address the Palestinian residents’ needs or the development of the Arab neighborhoods that constitute the capital’s most difficult planning problem. Nor does it entertain the possibility that Jerusalem in 2050 will include Palestinian government institutions, or that Palestinians would be partners in its planning.

The plan starts out with six basic principles, all of them dealing with Jerusalem’s Jewish character. “Israel is the Jewish nation’s core and Jerusalem is Israel and the Jewish nation’s core,” says the first principle. The second states that the city’s Jewish population increase will not be based merely on natural growth but on increased migration to the city. The third says the plan’s goal was to “create a process to increase the chance of Israel and the Jewish nation to prosper.”

The remaining principles deal with the need for demographic planning to conserve the city’s Jewish majority.

The brochure says, “We didn’t go into the question of how the conflict will be solved, which is of course outside the plan’s jurisdiction. But we assumed that for considerations that are not political the Jerusalem metropolis will not be divisible, so we see it as a territorial continuity enabling free traffic of people and merchandise.”

An entire chapter is dedicated to the “demographic problem.” The government is called to adopt a demographic policy to ensure the ratio of Arab residents does not exceed 40 percent. Otherwise, it says, “The increase in the Muslims’ rate compared to the Jews’ is likely to continue in the future as well.”

The planners say Jerusalem is sacred to the three religions, but hardly deals with any religion but Judaism. The word “Palestinians” doesn’t appear in the brochure at all. The word “Muslims” appears 11 times, eight of them in the chapter dealing with the demographic threat.

Most of the projects in the plan are sketched generally. One relatively detailed one deals with renovating several mikves (ritual bath houses) in the area between City of David and the Temple Mount, where “the Temple King Solomon built was located.” Bermeister contributed money to this enterprise. “It will be possible to hold gatherings and performances for hundreds of people on the background of the City of David and the Temple Mount,” it says.

Two other projects consist of intensively developing the Refa’im National Park as a huge tourist area with “challenging family attractions associated with the Bible,” an ancient agriculture reconstruction site and hotels. At least one of the sites is planned in the West Bank village of Walaja, near Bethlehem.

Another huge hotel is located in Jabal Mukkaber, on areas owned by Bermeister in Nof Zion.

Bermeister, who made the bulk of his fortune investing in Skype when it was starting out, is close to rightist officials in Jerusalem and especially to rightist activist and council member Aryeh King, who was one of the project’s initiators. Bermeister purchased the land on which the Jewish settlement Nof Zion was built, in the Palestinian village Jabal Mukkaber in East Jerusalem. He also purchased other lands from Palestinians for settling Jews on and invested money in hotels and lands in the western part of the city.

The homes of Al-Walaja looking down on the agricultural terraces and a barbed-wire Israeli fence.Credit: Emil Salman

So far some 5 million shekels have been invested in the ambitious Jerusalem 5800 project since it was launched five years ago. Its planners’ team was headed by architect Shlomo Gertner and included transportation, tourist and conservation experts.

The project was completed about four months ago. A brochure outlining it opens with congratulations by Tourist Minister Yariv Levin and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin. Last week the plan’s English-language version was completed and has been submitted to leading municipal and government officials.

King promises to present it to the new U.S. administration officials, in the hope it will influence the United States’ policy toward Jerusalem.

Officials in the Jerusalem municipality denied the possibility that the plan or parts of it would be used by the authorities as policy papers. But the planners have already presented parts of the project at municipal meetings and ministries. Officials in the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry say parts of the plan correspond to government policy in Jerusalem anyway. “Large parts of the proposed policy in the brochure are applied by the government, but the government doesn’t set its policy on the basis of some brochure or other,” an official said.

The plan suggests building a large international airport (accommodating up to 35 million passengers a year) in the Hyrcania Valley between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, not far from Jericho.

“No other site in Israel is suitable for another airport, it’s as though God’s finger created that valley,” says Gertner. “After we started the planning we found that the Palestinians were also planning an airport there. It can certainly be a joint airport with one entrance for Israelis and another for Palestinians. All the Judea and Samaria residents will be able to fly from there to all over the world.”

The plan also calls for a railway line from Ramallah, via Jerusalem and Hebron to Be’er Sheva. Parts of the plan deals with protecting open spaces, using renewable energy, ecological passages and so on.

“There are two nations here, but we’re not dealing with the administrative, political solutions. We say this space must remain open, it’s the only way for real prosperity,” says Gertner.

“It’s not a bad plan if you’re in a system that ignores reality. It’s completely cut off from the urban Jerusalem reality,” says architect Yehuda Greenfield, who drafted the highly detailed partition plan of Jerusalem for the Geneva initiative.

“It creates a totally fictitious situation that there’s one Jewish narrative here but there are other narratives that must be addressed,” he says.