Where’s the Embassy?
It’ll be easier–or at least quicker–building it on the moon.
In this congested city with narrow streets it’s been impossible to create a coherent network of bike paths. The municipality has been at it for more than a decade. What’s been built goes from marked paths on sidewalks to streets, competing with pedestrians or cars, then to a dedicated and protected path with several mystifying blank spaces between one section and another. Long stretches have been created, only to be erased after neighbors persisted in parking their cars wherever they chose, even if it required them to bump over the buffers meant to protect the path.
Finding a place for the Embassy may depend on a final settlement between Palestine and Israel, that shows no sign of ever happening.
NIMBY (Not in my back yard) may kick in early. Who wants such a monstrosity in their neighborhood? It’s sure to become a battlement stretching out in several rings of security, baffling traffic, forbidding parking, and inviting one contentious demonstration after another.
Getting approval of a site will require the cooperation of local, regional, and national planning authorities, with lengthy delays by courts in the likely event of suits by those who don’t want it anywhere, or where it’s been planned.
Israeli and American governments are sure to be hounded by those insisting that any move will get in the way of an elusive international agreement, or finalizing what may have been agreed.
Digging in this city assures discoveries that bring on the archaeologists, armed with legislation that gives them at least nominal authority to stop the work until they have finished discovering and protecting whatever it is from millennia past. Rabbis from competing congregations can be sure to look over the shoulders of archaeologists and builders, intent on stopping them whenever there is (as there is sure to be) a hint of what might be a Jewish grave.
Roads and rail lines twist here and there, and require elevation with spaces left empty, to protect what has been discovered and can claim protected status.
Long before these stages, those concerned with assuring a building design appropriate to Jerusalem will have their own years of conflict. Fitting US governmental, American and Israeli Jewish spiritual aspirations, sure to compete with Muslim, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Evangelical and who knows what other interests will challenge any record of architectural competition.
Israeli police, courts, and prisons have dealt with the manipulations, political and financial payoffs required to construct major and minor projects in a city crowded by existing structures and roads, as well as competing and confusing claims of property ownership, religious, ethnic, and aesthetic sensitivities, plus legislation and regulation meant to prevent anything improper.
What could be named for Ehud Olmert is a large, ugly, and expensive housing development on a previously attractive hilltop. It produced testimony about envelopes of cash and jail sentences for two former mayors and several of their colleagues.
The prospect of an American Embassy will invite developers with the image and mixed record of Donald Trump to work their way through the hurdles while protecting their images and staying out of prison.
Pressure from the US and Israeli governments may be enough to get over the planning hurdles and prospects of court challenges.
But maybe not.
Reports suggest that Benjamin Netanyahu was at least as active as the US State Department in crafting the speech about Jerusalem that Donald Trump read to the world.
In this city where it is all supposed to have happened, and will happen, the news of the speech and its fall out in protests, injuries, and deaths is competing with the struggle of the present political elite to stay out of prison.
Bibi gained a few days of glory from the speech, but his parliamentary lieutenant, David Bitan is in the deep du du and heading for worse. The police have recordings of conversations about money and political favors, seemingly confirming what he has been explicit in denying. Bibi went off to another international trip that repeated the effect of previous jaunts in producing short delays in his own business with the police.
The heads of two parties in his coalition–Jewish Home and Kulanu (All of us) with the key ministries of Justice and Finance–hinted about their limited tolerance for continued affiliation. Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman said that his people will vote against measures demanded by the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Early signs are that there’ll not be a quick resolution of the criminal brouhaha. Two senior Likud MKs thought to be candidates to replace Bibi, have been linked to one or another of the issues being investigated.
We’ve had weekends with 20,000 or more protesting the corruption centered on Bibi and his friends.
Politics may remove them while the police and prosecutors are still working.
It’s looking more likely that a governmental crisis among the Jews will join everything else that has to be in place for a peace process and/or the formal movement of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
Who’ll replace Likud? may be confused by findings that the right of center party maintains its position as the country’s largest.
Some polls show that Yair Lapid is the country’s most popular individual politician, but he’s got a poor record of getting along with ultra-Orthodox parties, which have enough voters to insure their participation in just about every Israeli government. Lapid’s ego, and that of the present head of the Labor Party, may be enough to get in the way of an alliance between them. And the Labor Party is already tearing itself apart, with individual MKs showing once again the party culture that allows them to swipe and undercut the selected party leader. Avi Gabbay is the ninth individual since the year 2000 to claim the leadership of a party which cannot control its inner self.
We won’t forget the matter of the Embassy. It’s still waiting the agreements on Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israelis.
Palestinian leaders are saying that White House comments about Jerusalem and the Western Wall put an end to any American sponsored peace process.
Optimistic Israelis are saying that Palestinians are not intent on an uprising, but we’re still counting those injured and killed.
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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