Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat panned a government proposal to rezone a sprawling nature reserve west of the city as a residential area with 1,400 apartments.
The housing cabinet, chaired by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, announced Monday that the Mitzpeh Naftoah nature park will be slated as a “priority area” for construction of new housing units.
The motion received the blessing of Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabai, a member of Kahlon’s Kulanu party, Hebrew media reported.
Blueprints for the new neighborhood in the Jerusalem forest, just south of Ramot, were drawn up by the Israel Lands Authority — allegedly under the nose of Barkat and the Jerusalem city council.
“It’s not clear to me why the Israel Lands Authority chose to thumb its nose so crudely at the municipality’s policy,” Barkat wrote Monday in a Facebook post.
“Mitzpeh Naftoah is one of the principal green lungs of the city — which according to experts, contains one of the unique natural sites in the world in terms of its wealth of biodiversity, including a wide range of local wildlife, such as the largest herd of gazelles in the Judean Hills and other animals — now in danger of extinction,” he said.
“I won’t allow them to revive construction plans in west Jerusalem that will bring serious harm to the city and the destruction of its green areas,” he said.
Barkat has been at loggerheads with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the prime minister’s appointment of a Jerusalem affairs minister — Ze’ev Elkin — despite a preelection promise to not do so.
“I’m troubled that narrow political considerations will bring about both a waste of public funds and more unnecessary bureaucracy that will make the work of the government and the municipality in developing and advancing Jerusalem more difficult,” Barkat said in a statement when Elkin’s appointment was announced on May 26.
אני קורא להסיר את הבניה במצפה נפתוח ומורדות רמות מסדר היום של קבינט הדיור היום!—לא אתן שרשות מקרקעי ישראל תצפצף ברגל…
In the March election, Kahlon campaigned on a housing and social reforms bill, vowing to build thousands of new units to curb skyrocketing real estate prices.
Before the bulldozers move in, construction plans must receive authorization from a government planning committee.
Environmental groups and residents of the Ramot neighborhood came out strongly against the scheme, citing landscape, recreational and environmental issues.
“One thousand five hundred species of plants exist in England, and here, squeezed in an area of 60 hectares, there are 500 species of plants. Nowhere in the world is there such a rich biodiversity packed in an area so dense,” Professor Alon Tal, of the Jewish National Fund, told the Walla news site.
“One hundred species of birds and a rich variety of animals [live in the park], some of which are threatened with extinction. It’s also one of the final remaining vantage points where one can get a glimpse of the scenery of [Jerusalem as it existed at the time of the biblical kings] David and Solomon. It also contains archaeological remains and remnants of ancient agricultural,” he said.
“The tragedy is that [they’re doing it]… to try and lower the price of housing, but there are other alternatives to such an exceptional site”, he said.