The West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, just outside Jerusalem, will ultimately become part of the capital, if the city’s recently elected mayor gets his wish.
In a recent interview after his first 100 days in office, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert expressed his hope that Jerusalem’s boundaries will one day encompass Ma’aleh Adumim and perhaps other satellite neighborhoods outside the capital.
As a West Bank settlement, Ma’aleh Adumim’s future status is unclear. Whether or not it remains in Israeli hands will depend on the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the eyes of many Israelis on both sides of the political spectrum, Ma’aleh Adumim is a suburb, not a political settlement.
Situated just 15 minutes from the heart of Jerusalem, the town has become a mecca for young couples and families who cannot afford to buy homes in the city. Most of the town’s residents commute to the capital for work each day.
Olmert, who served in the Cabinet in the Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir, called the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim a “logical” step.
Gazing out over the city from his office in the new City Hall building, Olmert pointed out that “the gap between the city and Ma’aleh Adumim is just 500 yards.”
He admitted that plans to annex the town “sound outrageous” to those unfamiliar with the city’s layout.
“People say, ‘What crazy plans do you have?’ But if you remember that the gap is just 500 yards, the story is different,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
The mayor also outlined plans to develop eastern Jerusalem to alleviate the city’s chronic housing shortage.
Jerusalem, he said, “will have to expand to the east. I’m not relating to political boundaries when I say this. Even if you satisfy the political issue, the natural growth of Jerusalem will go to the east.”
VOWS TO BUILD THOUSANDS MORE HOUSING UNITS
Olmert underscored his belief that Jews may live in eastern Jerusalem and noted that he had approved a building permit for the controversial Beit Orot Yeshiva on the Mount of Olives. The site, which stands between two Arab villages, had originally been zoned for an Arab girls’ school.
“I said in advance that I would build Beit Orot, and I have not changed my position,” Olmert said. “However, we have already allocated a new site for the girls’ school, which is just next door, about 500 yards from there.”
Olmert vowed to build thousands more housing units for both Israelis and Palestinians, but he admitted that this will not be easy.
But, he counseled, “First I must get the cooperation of the Housing Ministry and the Land Authority” and ” it is impossible to determine who owns the land.”
Asked if he had discussed Jerusalem’s future borders with government officials, Olmert said no.
But, he added, “there are some discussions about the metropolitan area of Jerusalem, and how it ought to be prioritized. We have discussed where to build, where to construct roads and industrial parks, and so forth.
By definition, he said, metropolitan Jerusalem “goes far beyond Ma’aleh Adumim.”
While making clear his opinions about Jerusalem’s future borders, Olmert conceded that final decisions are up to the Knesset and Cabinet.
Ultimately, he said, “things will have to be determined by the government.”