The IDF Colleges on the Mt. of Olives Off the Agenda, Again

Last week, plans for the construction of the IDF Colleges on the Mount of Olives (Plan 51870) were once again been removed from the agenda of the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee – where if the plan were to be brought up, its final approval would be a foregone conclusion.

The plan was deposited for public review back in October 2012 (see our previous report at that time, here, for background on the plan). This kicked off the 60-day review public review process.  Following the end of that 60-day period, the next step would be for the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee to meet to hear and rule on any objections to the plan.  That time has now elapsed.

During the public review period for Plan 51870, objections were lodged from two sources: the Brigham Young (Mormon) Center and local Palestinian residents. A hearing on these objections was originally scheduled for March 7th.  However, the plan was ultimately removed from that day’s agenda, reportedly at the request of Prime Minister’s office – probably in anticipation of President Obama’s visit.  At the time it was removed, Committee members were informed that the plan would be added to the agenda of their April 18th meeting.

As late as the afternoon of April 17th, Committee members were informed that Plan 51870 was still on the agenda.  However, on the morning of April 18th, the plan was once again removed from the agenda, reportedly again on instructions from the Prime Minister’s office – perhaps to avoid adding a sour note to Secretary of Defense Hagel’s visit to Israel. At the time it was removed, Committee members were informed that the plan would be added to the agenda of the committee’s April 30th meeting.

On April 29th, Committee members were told that the plan had again been removed from the upcoming meeting’s agenda.  This time, unlike on previous occasions, rather than being given a new date for the plan to be considered, Committee members were told that they would be notified of the new date at a later time.

The initial two decisions to only briefly defer, rather than indefinitely postpone, the hearing on this plan seemed to indicate that, while there was some readiness to tweak the timetable for short-term political reasons, there was a determination to press ahead with this plan in East Jerusalem, despite its provocative nature and its inevitable negative impacts on nascent Obama/Kerry-backed peace efforts, on security, and on the two-state solution.

This latest decision to postpone the hearing indefinitely is thus good news.  If the government of Israel wants an issue (and a potential headache) like this to go away, all it has to do is remove the plan from the agenda of Committee and issue a brief notice that a new date will be forthcoming (something that happens routinely).  This is what has now happened.

How long this good news will last is unknown.  The Brigham Young Center has reportedly withdrawn its (largely technical) objection to the plan, based on a compromise reached with Israeli authorities.  Thus, the only remaining objection is the one filed by local Palestinian residents – an objection that will almost certainly be dismissed by the planning committee. At the same time, the IDF, which by definition is the key stakeholder in this plan, does not appear to be pressing for the plan’s urgent approval or its implementation (perhaps recognizing the political/security problems inherent in the plan, as well as the diplomatic folly inherent in the construction of an IDF installation that foreign counterparts are almost certain to refuse meetings at).