National Planning Council Reverses Appeals Committee Decision on Kedem Compound

Last week, after perfunctory deliberations, the full committee of the National Planning Council issued its formal decision on the Kedem Compound, revoking the June 2015 decision of the Appeals Committee.  The decision reverses the positive results achieved in the Appeals Committee which, responding to numerous objections from the residents of Silwan, NGOs Ir Amim and Emek Shaveh and a panel of 35 planners, conservation experts and intellectuals, determined that the area of the plan should be reduced by half and imposed clear restrictions on site usage.  The full committee’s decision restores the April 2014 decision of the District Planning and Building Committee, which accepted the plan for the visitor center in full, with the minor modification of reducing the height of the building by one story.           
The Kedem plan promoted by the Elad settler group calls for construction of a four-story (originally five-story) structure of more than 16,000 square meters in the neighborhood of Silwan, about 20 meters from the walls of the Old City and just across the street from the Elad managed City of David. Advancing settler promoted tourist projects around the Historic Basin – alongside the concerning increase in private settlement through State supported evictions of Palestinians – contributes to the consolidation of Israeli control of the Historic Basin and poses significant obstacles for achieving a political resolution on Jerusalem.  
The full committee’s reversal of the Appeals Committee’s judgement reflects the protracted efforts of the Elad settler organization – also acting through the Interior Committee of the Knesset and the court system – to undermine earlier outcomes, and demonstrates the political nature of yesterday’s plenary decision.  According to a freedom of information request filed by Ir Amim, it is extremely rare for the full committee to review an Appeals Committee decision; in fact, it is customary for the Ministry of Justice representative, a chair of the Appeals Committee, to defend decisions made at the appeals level.  In this case, it was the General Director of the Justice Ministry who initiated the full committee’s review of the decision.
Additional background
On April 3, 2014, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the Kedem Compound plan (Plan no. 13542) – a  plan, promoted by the Elad settler organization, to construct a five-story structure (more than 16,000 sq. m.) in the old Givati Parking Lot in the neighborhood of Silwan, about 20 meters from the walls of the Old City.  The plan was drawn up by architect Arieh Rachamimov and garnered enthusiastic support from the authorities: it was advanced at record speed from the Local Planning and Building Committee to the District Committee, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority joined the plan as an additional submitter, and Mayor Nir Barkat took the trouble of attending the District Committee plan deposit hearing to voice his support for the plan’s approval. Although the District Committee ordered the building to be lowered by one story, it rejected substantive objections to the plan.
Multiple appeals against the plan’s approval were subsequently submitted to the Appeals Committee of the National Planning and Building Council, including those by residents of Silwan; Ir Amim; Emek Shaveh; and a group of 35 planners, conservation experts and intellectuals, represented before the Appeals Subcommittee by Prof. Alona Nitzan-Shiftan.  An appeal was also submitted by Elad and the INPA against the District Committee’s reduction of the structure’s approved height by one story.
Most of the appeals against the plan’s approval were founded on the argument that the plan serves as a pretext for Israel to promote another settlement in the heart of Silwan, in grave violation of conservation principles regarding the Old City and its surroundings. As stated in the appeals, the plan will significantly alter the Old City environs, deviating from rules of conservation and planning practiced for decades, and all without the level of deep and open public debate required for decisions of this magnitude.  The Kedem Compound will further erode the fabric of a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, making it invisible to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who are expected to visit the complex each year.  Further, the potential for violence is significantly exacerbated by the proximity of the project to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, where extremist Jewish groups are increasingly testing the limits of what is arguably the biggest flashpoint in the city through regular ascents to the Mount. 
The National Planning Council’s Appeals Subcommittee held three hearings. The first commenced on March 12 but was canceled due to an apparent conflict of interests, namely discovery that the representative of the Ministry of Environmental Protection was the son of the plan’s listed conservation adviser.  Two full appeal hearings were held on May 27 and 28.
On June 7, 2015, the Appeals Subcommittee of the National Planning Council approved the plan for the Kedem Compound in Silwan, albeit with significant amendments.  By a simple majority, the subcommittee partially accepted claims raised in appeals against the District Committee’s approval of the plan, including an appeal submitted on behalf of Ir Amim by Atty. Ishay Shneydor.  Link here for a full review of the Appeals Committee decision.
For further coverage of the decision to reinstate the Kedem Compound plan, see here.

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