JERUSALEM (Mar. 25)
Jerusalem suburbanites are balking at the idea of officially becoming part of the Israeli capital.
Authorities are considering a proposal, which is backed by Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, to expand the city’s boundaries to surrounding Jewish communities has drawn opposition from residents of the suburbs that would be affected.
A plan being considered by a government committee would merge the various local governments with Jerusalem, Israeli media reported this week.
The reports indicated that the move would be primarily westward and that such municipalities as Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev and Betar would not necessary be annexed to Jerusalem or come within its municipal boundaries.
Olmert denied reports of plans to annex areas east of Jerusalem. The eastward expansion of the city has been a point of contention between Israel and the Palestinians, who view it as settlement expansion and an obstacle to progress in the peace process.
The plan comes at a time of shifting demographics in Jerusalem, which has an increasingly large fervently Orthodox population. Some demographers also project that, as the Arab population of the city grows, the Jewish majority will decrease.
Olmert defended the idea of the westward expansion as a matter of efficiency and mutual benefit.
“There is no point in maintaining a string of local councils when they can be merged beneath one body in the Jerusalem municipality,” he said.
“I am sure that the unification of the localities west of Jerusalem would not only benefit Jerusalem, but the local authorities as well. We have to remember that no small amount of resources are wasted on redundancy between different municipalities.”
But opponents charged that the city is pursuing those residents who have left the city and opted for the suburbs.
“We should not chase after those people who have fled Jerusalem because of a feeling of suffocation, economic hardship and housing problems, and force Jerusalem on them,” said Labor Knesset member Ophir Pines.
The leaders of neighboring municipalities said annexation to Jerusalem would mean losing the communities’ own character and quality of life.
“People left Jerusalem in order to live here in a quiet and relaxed atmosphere,” said Eli Moyal, head of the local council of one such suburb, Mevasseret Zion. “They will not agree to be returned to Jerusalem.”
Officials in the Prime Minster’s Office were quoted by the Israeli daily Ha’aretz as saying that despite the opposition of local municipalities, the expansion of Jerusalem was essential for its development.
They also denied speculation that the expansion of the city was intended to persuade Olmert to suspend municipal approval for construction at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem, another area of contention with the Palestinians.