A `Technical' Plan for `Greater Jerusalem'
Secret proposal would incorporate huge tracts of the occupied West Bank
SITTING on the desk of Jerusalem's new right-wing mayor, Ehud Olmert, is a potentially explosive blueprint to expand the city five-fold that could wreak havoc with Palestinian plans for self-rule in the West Bank.Skip to next paragraph
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``Greater Jerusalem,'' as outlined in a still-secret report presented to Mr. Olmert last month, would incorporate all the Jewish housing projects that have been built around the city limits over the past 25 years, according to experts who drew the proposed metropolitan map.
But it would also include other huge tracts of the West Bank, including towns such as Ramallah to the north and Bethlehem to the south, that are slated to be included in the autonomous Palestinian area under the peace agreement signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) last September.
Town planners who have worked on the ``Greater Jerusalem'' plan say it is nothing more than a technical proposal to encourage the Jerusalem authorities, as they think of the future of municipal services, to take account of reality: The Holy City is a metropolis in the making.
But in Jerusalem, the object of more passions and rivalries than any other city on earth, there is no such thing as a purely ``technical proposal.''
And the political implications of ``Greater Jerusalem'' are so sensitive that neither the report's authors, nor municipal officials, will discuss details.
``The document is the subject of internal discussion,'' says Hagai Elias, who is Olmert's spokesman. ``Until we have finished our discussions in City Hall, we are not saying anything.''
But according to Israel Kimche, a city planner who has long studied the urban problems besetting Jerusalem and a member of the committee that prepared the report, ``Greater Jerusalem'' would stretch from Ramallah in the north to beyond Bethlehem in the south, from the outskirts of Jericho in the east to Beit Shemesh in the west.
``Both economic and social development over the past 27 years [since Israel redrew the city limits after the Six-Day War] have made the city's boundaries very unrealistic,'' Mr. Kimche argues.
The bulk of the area included in the putative ``Greater Jerusalem'' is in the West Bank. ``The committee is saying that Jerusalem's 1967 borders are anachronistic, but you cannot change them without causing an international scandal,'' says Moshe Amirav, a former Jerusalem councilman. ``So you have to get round your planning problems in another way.''
The idea appeals to many of the right-wing council members, who enjoy a majority since last year's municipal elections ousted longtime mayor Teddy Kollek, because it looks like a step toward Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank.
BUT not everyone on the left is opposed to the idea. Palestinians would outnumber Jews in the area covered by ``Greater Jerusalem,'' Mr. Amirav points out, making exclusive Jewish sovereignty impossible, and a bi-national, confederative status the only feasible status for the city.
For Kimche, the city's future political status is of less immediate concern than the fact that the metropolitan zone he envisages ``is one functional area that should work together.'' All the Jewish settlements and most of the Palestinian towns and villages are firmly in Jerusalem's orbit.
Already, for example, Bethlehem and Ramallah are on the same water and electricity networks as Jerusalem, and they dispose of their sewage through the same system. Regardless of who holds charge of these cities in the future, he says, ``Let's hope that we can handle this area together.''
Although sewage pipes do not necessarily set political boundaries, Jewish settlements might well define the limits of autonomy, especially in the light of the Israeli government's oft-repeated insistence that Jerusalem will remain the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, under exclusive Israeli sovereignty.
The settlement of Maale Adumim, for example, is currently expanding westward to become almost contiguous with Jerusalem, and its residents certainly regard themselves as residents of Jerusalem. Downtown is a 15-minute drive away.
Its eastern boundary, meanwhile, is nearly eight miles into the desert, very close to Jericho.
The report is said to recommend that settlements such as Maale Adumim, Pisgat Zeev, Ramot, and Givat Zeev, all built on Israeli-occupied territory, be expanded and joined up, where possible. The effect of such building, already underway, would not only be to increase the Jewish population of ``Greater Jerusalem,'' but to ensure Jewish territorial continuity.
The existence of such large Jewish-inhabited areas would make the land around Jerusalem, whatever its status in international law and however strong Palestinian claims to it, hard to give up in negotiations with the PLO over the West Bank's final status after a five year interim autonomy period.
But however many houses the Israeli government decides to build for Jewish families in ``Greater Jerusalem,'' Jews will never enjoy the decisive majority over the Palestinians that would be required for sovereignty, Amirav points out.
Any attempt to annex the area, making it part of an exclusively Israeli Jerusalem, would backfire, he argues.
``If you want to be bigger in geography, you become smaller in demography,'' he points out. ``There is no solution to metropolitan Jerusalem based on single [Israeli] rule.''