Good News: IDF Colleges NOT Moving to Mount of Olives; Holy Basin Cable Car Plan Stalled

Since 2012 we have been warning about Town Plan 51870to build the new IDF War Colleges at a site on the Mount of Olives (for background, see our reports from May 2, 2012, October 24, 2012; and our May 7, 2013) – a plan that is nearly fully approved and set for implementation. If implemented, this plan would have dealt a serious blow to the historical and religious integrity of the Mount of Olives, and would have had serious ramifications for the two-state solution in Jerusalem.

This plan benefitted from the support of senior echelons in both government of Israel and the IDF, including Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who almost certainly played a role in the fast-tracking of the plan through the approval process.  It should be recalled that this plan was slated for final approval in March 2013 (a week before President Obama’s historic visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah), but was taken off the agenda to avoid a conflict at that time.

This month, in a rare piece of good news, it was reported (first in Hebrew, subsequently in English as well) that this plan will not be going forward. Instead of the Mount of Olives, the IDF colleges will now be relocated to a site in the Jerusalem Forest, within Green Line Israel.

This is a major victory for those in Israel, and in the international community, who support a two-state solution in Jerusalem. It is a victory that is likely the result, in large part, of engagement by friends of Israel in the international community – governments, foreign militaries and the Church (which of course has enormous and sensitive equities on the Mount of Olives). This victory is also a powerful reminder of the fact that while efforts to preserve a politically and religiously viable Jerusalem – one that can someday be home to capitals for both Israel and Palestine – may be terribly frustrating, they are not always futile.

In addition, in the past we reported on a grandiose project of Israeli Mayor Nir Barkat to build a cable car connecting between Abu Tor in the South, to the Western Wall (with its terminal to be located just outside the ramparts adjacent to the Al Aqsa mosque), and to the Mount of Olives.  The proposed route is 1.6 kilometers long, and the system would be capable of ferrying 4000-6000 people an hour (see our May 7, 2013 reportfor details). This planning was quietly moving toward implementation, when news broke in late March that a French company had pulled out of the project (another French company known for its expertise in building cable cars said it was not involved in this project, either).  A report from the Jerusalem Post is here. The most authoritative report on the story ran in Le Figaro on March 25, 2014, and noted (translation by Terrestrial Jerusalem):

The French company Safege, which for the past two years has been conducting feasability studies regarding the building of an aerial cable car in Jerusalem, recently threw in the towel. The fear of foreseeable controversies, as well as a warning recently issued by the Minister of the Economy and Foreign Ministry, appears to have shaken up Safege managers. The planned route [of the cable car] crosses the eastern part of the city, whose annexation by Israel has never been recognized by the international community. ‘To avoid any political interpretation, Suez Environnement decided to not continue,’ a spokesperson for the group, which owns Safege, told Le Figaro.”