by Nadav Shragai
We're finally getting back to normalcy in Jerusalem. Perhaps the 1,500 housing units that were approved for construction in Ramat Shlomo on Monday herald the dawning of a new era of sanity, a return to the kind of behavior a sovereign power is expected to display in its own capital. A new sanity because zoning and construction in Jerusalem in recent years reflected precisely the opposite: hesitation, fear and lack of decisiveness, punctuated by question marks over our justification.
Monday's decision and the discussion scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday on further construction in the southern Jerusalem community of Givat Hamatos (which will include housing for Arabs too, as it should and must), communicates a message to the world that Jerusalem is not a part of the game; that the construction freeze has come to an end here as well. Now what we have to do is restore independence to the city's zoning committees, releasing them of the obligation to get approval from the Prime Minister's Office for every plan of this kind. For four decades, the zoning committees were independent, and they made professional decisions based on a super-policy formulated by most of Israel's administrations.
This super-policy was that Jerusalem would never be divided again. We said it in the past (with the exception of the administrations of Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, both of whom betrayed their loyalty to Jerusalem), and we need to say it again, without feeling shame, without blinking and without stuttering. Construction in Har Homa, Ramat Shlomo and Givat Hamatos contributes to the unity of the city and diminishes the chances that it will be divided, and is good construction — for Jews and Arabs alike. It may temporarily cost us our good relations with the U.S. and Europe, it may even elicit sanctions, but for Jerusalem it would be worth it.
Israel, still handcuffed by the EU and the U.S. and unable to combat the rampant illegal construction in east Jerusalem, should explain to its friends that the illegal Palestinian housing also constitutes "facts on the ground" — and not to Israel's benefit. It was the residents of east Jerusalem, of all people, who filed hundreds of complaints last year against this illegal construction. Even they feel that enough is enough. Real estate criminals are stealing private land and chaos reigns supreme. We need to create a situation that allows the Arabs to build legally, mainly upward, like in the Jewish sector. At the same time, despite the views of "our friends" the Europeans, we need to resume demolitions of illegal structures, especially in places where illegal construction undermines city planning efforts and commandeers land intended for public use.
The other message communicated by Israel's approval of the Ramat Shlomo construction is directed inward: Jerusalem cannot continue to survive with a mere 1,500 to 2,000 new housing units per year. Not when the demand exceeds 4,500 housing units annually. This enormous gap is prompting Jerusalemites to leave the city in droves: 18,000 Jews leave Jerusalem every year, and the Jewish majority gets smaller and smaller.
The added bonus of having the ultra-Orthodox public in Jerusalem, which is especially vulnerable to the housing crisis, live in designated ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods rather than having to look for housing in secular areas, is also a blessing as it will diminish friction.
Now, all we need to do is to keep going, without fear. Monday's decision is just a drop in the bucket. There is still a lot of work to be done.
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