Jerusalem Needs to Expand

by Gedalyah Reback

This is going to have to be accepted by policymakers worldwide if the city of Jerusalem is to avoid the economic decline of Berlin in the event of a sudden rupture by war or abrasive politicking in the United Nations. Jerusalem has too many interests to be left to a simple municipal government. In many ways its politics make its status as important as New York City. Michael Bloomberg has the de facto status of a governor in the American media (he might be more important than the Governor of New York anyway). So too, the mayor of Jerusalem should be balancing the multitude of interests in such an important city as if it had five bureaus itself – and maybe it should.

The city is crippled by a number of domestic and international factors. The lack of political options has reduced the municipality to politically clumsy home condemnations in areas targeted for development, alienating the local Arab population.

According to the left-wing non-profit Ir HaAmim (City of the Nations), the master plan announced for Jerusalem in 2009 inadequately answers the concerns of East Jerusalem residents. They periodically point out that no plan has ever really addressed development needs in Arab East Jerusalem. While they might be correct, the political context and diplomatic stopping short by Israel’s Western allies and Arab ambiguity about negotiations has created a protracted Catch 22 in Jerusalem vis-a-vis its Arabs: if Israel builds, it alienates states supporting negotiations with Arab states; if it doesn’t build, it alienates Arabs within East Jerusalem.

The fact the plan severely under-addresses the likely housing needs of East Jerusalem is only part of what is lacking. The plan makes no preparations for alternative realities – i.e., the city splitting between two governments.

The analysis of the right-wing Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs brings up the issue of land registration in East Jerusalem, though with different motives than Ir HaAmim. While Ir HaAmim complains that subjecting local Arabs to contract law in order to prove ownership of property, the JCPA complains that the lack of that information prevents the Jerusalem municipality from planning to develop areas (and deciding what land to buy from private owners. As their analysis states:

However, the policy of refraining from resolving ownership on most of the land in eastern Jerusalem substantially contributes to the illegal construction there, and severely damages the property rights of the individual, allows for dual registrations and the implementation of contradictory transactions, and does not allow for mortgaging innumerable properties whose exact boundaries are not known.

Basically, East Jerusalemites are screwing themselves.

Neither approach clearly gives us a way forward. There is clear politicization in both analyses. The city is snarled by traffic and perpetually in shortage of housing for the lower and middle classes. Tourism is below possible numbers and the possibility of conflict leaves the city in perpetual stagnation.

Building in Jerusalem is necessary in all neighborhoods for the general health of the city, accommodating immigrants and spurring job growth. It also encourages de-congesting traffic – the indisputable molasses to Jerusalem’s economy.

In my opinion, conceiving a durable development plan that can be adjusted easily as political realities shift, is the only responsible maneuver. Nir Barkat’s plans are simply unoriginal and sub-par. He might be less a fiend than Ehud Olmert (when he was mayor of Jerusalem), but he does not seem to be ready.

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