Jerusalem cable car backers miss court deadline to prove plan will boost tourism

High Court extends final date for government, other bodies to provide ‘factual basis’ for their claims, as Jerusalem Development Authority issues tender for project

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Artist's impression of cable cars crossing Jerusalem's Hinnom Valley, from a promotional video posted to YouTube.
Artist's impression of cable cars crossing Jerusalem's Hinnom Valley, from a promotional video posted to YouTube.

The government and various other bodies have failed to submit by a High Court deadline of September 6 documents detailing the “factual basis” on which they claim that a planned cable car to Jerusalem’s Old City will boost tourism.

The court has given them an extension until October 1, which is being opposed by several organizations opposed to the project.

In the meantime, and despite the ongoing court case, the Jerusalem Development Authority, which is planning the cable car, has been issuing public notices in newspapers over the past ten days, inviting bidders to take part in the pre-qualification stage of a tender for the “design, construction, operation, maintenance and delivery of a cable car to the Old City in Jerusalem.”

Two bidders’ conferences have been set for October. These enable interested parties to ask questions and obtain information to help them prepare their bids.

The cable car is planned to stretch from the First Station cultural complex in the south of the city to the Old City’s Dung Gate, which is the gate closest to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most venerated prayer site. There will be one stop, on Mount Zion, and a maintenance depot for carriages in the neighborhood of Abu Tor.

A public notice inviting bidders to take part in the first stage of a tender for a cable car to Jerusalem’s Old City.

In July, in a last-ditch attempt to stop the project, opponents submitted an appeal to the High Court. Later that month, the court responded by ordering the government and all the other bodies involved to detail the “factual basis” on which the cable car meets the wording of the planning law — whether it really will “serve as a tourist attraction,” and “make a real contribution to tourism in the area.”

This touches on what could turn out to be the Achilles heel of the entire initiative: the government’s decision to have the project dealt with by the National Infrastructure Committee — a fast-track body within the Finance Ministry — rather than the usual planning mechanism, which must allow for public objections at each stage of consideration. The NIC was set up to handle major infrastructure projects such as gas and railway lines that cross local authority boundaries.

In 2016, the government amended the planning and building law to add “tourist infrastructure” projects to the definition of “national infrastructure” projects that can be dealt with by the National Infrastructure Committee, and specifically named tourism transportation systems.

This paved the way for the ostensibly local initiative to be whisked off to the NIC after just one presentation before the Jerusalem planning committee.

An artist’s rendering of a station on the route of the future cable car that will stretch from Jerusalem’s First Station to the Western Wall in the Old City. (Courtesy Jerusalem Development Authority)

If the court rejects the factual basis that is submitted by the new date of October 1, the National Infrastructure Committee will have exceeded its authority to discuss the project and subsequently to recommend it to the government. The entire case for the cable car could start to unravel.

The plan’s many critics say that the cable car will turn Jerusalem’s most precious historic vistas into a theme park. An analysis of traffic data released in July appears to undermine the other major claim made for the cable car — that it will relieve traffic congestion along the Old City walls. The analysis suggests that an increase in shuttles would be a better, faster, and cheaper way of ferrying tourists from southern Jerusalem to the Dung Gate.

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