Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu and the New Unity Government Ministers,

As you finally usher in this unity government, many crucial challenges face you: the fallout from the Corona pandemic, existential security challenges, a difficult economy, and more. However, one challenge stands out in particular: Jerusalem.

Advertisement



This week we celebrate 53 years of the liberation of Jerusalem, yet there are still significant threats that are facing our united Capital: terrorism – over 5,000 attacks or attempted attacks over the past five years alone; demographics – Arabs have grown to some 40% of the city’s population, many of whom are hostile; delegitimization – forces that deny Jerusalem’s Jewish roots and legacy; and rampant illegal Arab constructionwith tens of thousands of such units in Jerusalem today.

The new government, under your leadership, must make Jerusalem a top priority – not only in word, but in deed – especially given today’s unique geo-political and health reality.

In this letter, our organization, Im Eshkachech-Keep Jerusalem, which deals in advocacy, education, and policy research, sums up for you FIVE of the major challenges and opportunities now facing Jerusalem, as well as the broad steps we recommend you take in the coming period.

 

  1. Demographics

The Background: Jerusalem’s Jewish majority has decreased from 72% in 1990, to about 60% in 2020. If this trend continues, Jerusalem could lose its Jewish majority within 10 years. The main causes for Jewish emigration from Jerusalem over the last 3 decades have been unaffordable housing and lack of employment opportunities.

Your Challenge: Increase the Jewish majority in Jerusalem to 85% over the coming 10 years.

Our Policy recommendations: 

  1. a) Massive housing construction projects, especially in affordable Jewish neighborhoods (see point 3 below).
  2. b) Tax incentives to new residents and businesses.
  3. c) Establishment of a Greater Jerusalem Metropolitan Municipality (see point 5 below).
  4. d) Reassignment of the Arab neighborhoods outside the security barrier (Kafr Akeb and Ras Hamis/Shuafat refugee camp) as separate Israeli municipalities, but not part of Jerusalem. (this will reduce the growing Arab minority by one third).

 

  1. Security

The Background: There have been thousands of attacks and attempted attacks on Jerusalem’s Jewish residents, especially since the beginning of the knife intifada in 2015. Additionally, there are countless propaganda attacks on Jewish Jerusalem’s very legitimacy.

Your Challenge: To significantly reduce the number of security and crime related incidents in the Jerusalem area and create a stronger reality of safety and security among all Jerusalem residents, and to respond to the propaganda attacks with hasbara, advocacy and public relations initiatives. 

Our Policy recommendations: 

  1. a) A significant increase the number of police stations and personnel in Arab neighborhoods, and to carry out strict enforcement of minor violations in order to increase deterrence.
  2. b) Large task forces, overt and covert – to combat narcotics, crime, weapons and subversive activities especially in the extremely dense neighborhoods outside the security barrier – Kafr Akeb and the Shuafat Refugee Camp/Ras Hamis.
  3. c) Strict crackdown on the ideological Islamic organizations and extremist activists.
  4. d) Limiting of schools and curriculum in the Arab sector to be exclusively under the Israeli Education Ministry and shutting down UNWRA schools and other hostile programs.
  5. e) Launching public relations, advocacy, educational and hasbara campaigns, locally and internationally using extensive social media and human resources to combat deligitimization and propaganda attacks.

 

  1. Construction

The Background: Over the past 25 years, more than 420,000 Jews have left Jerusalem, while only 255,000 have arrived. Building starts have averaged 1,900 units a year, despite the demand being over 4,000 units. As a result, home prices have soared, leading Jews to leave the city for more affordable locations. The demographic imbalance has increased.

Your Challenge: To increase the Jewish population by 350,000 people within the present municipal borders through a massive boost of housing supply.

 Our Policy recommendations:

  1. a) Ensure that at least 75,000 new housing units are built by 2040, especially in the peripheral, affordable Jewish neighborhoods in liberated, post 1967 Jerusalem (Ramot, Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev, etc).
  2. b) Streamline zoning change and building permit regulations (especially TAMA 38), accelerate renewed housing (pinui-binui) and new high rise programs.
  3. c) Establishment of new high- and low-tech areas with focus on Atarot in the north, E-1 in the east and in south Jerusalem to help create job opportunities for the expected influx of residents.

 

  1. Illegal Arab building

The Background: For decades, Arabs in eastern Jerusalem have been building illegally, with the government and municipality barely contesting them (unlike the much stricter enforcement in the Jewish sections). We estimate there are over 30,000 illegal housing units today in Jerusalem. Less than 1% are dealt with through prosecution or are demolished. Very few builders of illegal housing pay municipal or other taxes, despite their receiving services from the city.

Your Challenge: Reduce illegal building to the level seen in other major cities – by means of demolitions, legislation and enforcement.

Our Policy recommendations:

  1. a) In-depth research of the extent of the illegal building and prevalent locations.
  2. b) Significant increase in reputable inspectors and inspections.
  3. c) Strict enforcement of the building laws and codes with zero tolerance on illegal building starts – this involves issuing demolition orders as well as stop work orders, depending on the circumstances.
  4. d) Active enforcement of thousands of existing court rulings for demolitions and fines.

 

  1. A Greater Jerusalem Municipality

The Background: Demographic and security threats and urban challenges have led political leaders to propose the creation of a Greater Jerusalem Metropolitan Municipality, similar to what exists in New York, Toronto, Montreal, London and many other world cities. This would increase the Jewish population of Jerusalem by 250,000 residents. Today, with the danger of losing a Jewish majority in Jerusalem and the Trump plan approving the extension of Israeli law on area C, the time is right to implement this plan.

Your Challenge: To incorporate the surrounding satellite towns of Jerusalem into a Greater Jerusalem Metropolitan Area, while retaining limited local independence through a borough system.

Our Policy recommendations:

  1. a) Immediately after extension of Israeli law in area C, expand of the Jerusalem municipal boundary to incorporate Gush Etzion, Beitar Illit, Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev and Mevaseret Zion. (see map below).
  2. b) Preparation of a regional plan for the linking of these outer areas with the current municipal borders with plans to construct tens of thousands of housing units, industrial parks, tourist sites, hotels, public buildings, security installations and a new airport.

 

We implore this newly formed unity Government to adopt these policy proposals as a whole. Then the future of a united Jerusalem from a political, demographic, security and urban point of view will be guaranteed for generations to come. There is also a broad consensus among most of the Zionist parties in Israel for these policies.

We trust that brave and determined leaders like you will fulfill the dreams of our ancient prophets by expressing their visions in a modern reality. More than any other achievement, these will be embedded in the annals of our rich Jewish history. May G-d be with you and bless you with success!

Chaim Silberstein, Founder and President
David Aiello, Director and Board member

Advertisement