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Negotiations resume; controversy rages

by michael January 15 2008
Municipal news

The hot news in Jerusalem at the dawn of this week is that, for the first time in what comes awfully near a decade (and a violent one at that), Israeli and Palestinian authorities have begun discussing the final status of Jerusalem vis-a-vis the creation of a Palestinian state.

Of course, an abundance of concerns are being mounted throughout the city. Hardliners on both sides oppose concessions. The ghosts of Berlin - and of divided Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967 - make residents wary of a city split in twain by barbed wire, armed guards and acrimony. And more practically, the piecemeal - and often politically-colored - nature of neighborhood development in Jerusalem makes it extremely difficult to surgically split the city in half along ethno-religious lines. The Washington Post reports today on this very phenomenon:

Developers of Nof Zion, luxury condominiums whose Hebrew name means “Zion View? after its panorama of historic Jerusalem, plan to distribute keys soon in the completed 91-unit first phase of a real estate project in the heart of the Arab neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.

Dividing sovereignty in Jerusalem according to Jewish and Arab neighborhoods is considered one of the most delicate “core? issues of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Critics of the project complain that building more Jewish enclaves in the middle of the neighborhoods that Palestinians claim as the capital of their state will undermine peace efforts.

“All small settlements of Jews in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods make it impossible to divide,? said Efrat Cohen-Bar, an architect with Bimkom, a nonprofit advocate of planning rights for Palestinians.

Promotional material for the project, targeting Jewish Americans, promises a gated community, a synagogue, a hotel, public gardens, a country club and a “harmonious residential neighborhood.?

And even overlooking briefly the geographical problem, these sorts of luxury condos, while superficially attracting wealthy new residents to Jerusalem, don't seem to be very good for the city. Housing tracts targeted at one specific group are often successful, to their own detriment; that is, they become populated with a specific group who become semi-autonomous and detached from the rest of the city. Large communities of Jewish Anglos exist in Jerusalem where Hebrew fluency is rare, civic participation is lacking and integration with the larger population is nonexistent. No matter how much money is brought into the city as a result of these luxury islands, the greater community suffers - final status negotiations are massively hampered, which does everyone a disservice, and the fabric of the municipal life is frayed.

Jerusalemite takes the same tack it always does - the money the government is pouring into building controversial housing projects for isolated enclaves of residents could be much better used for beautifying the city and fostering cooperation and understanding between its many residents. Even if we wind up divided, any decrease in the level of acrimony is a far greater victory than a high-rise piece of New Jersey in East Jerusalem.
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