Update: Zeev Elkin – Jerusalem Affairs and Environmental Protection Minister
At the end of July, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu chose to appoint Zeev Elkin as Minister of Environmental Protection. Elkin has been head of the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage through his position as Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, and is responsible for two government offices now that he has been appointed Minister of Environmental Protection. Although the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage and the Ministry of Environmental Protection are not considered central portfolios in the Israeli government, his position in both offices gives Elkin significant power over the city’s activity, especially in Jerusalem’s Historic Basin.
The Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage is responsible for the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) and East Jerusalem Development Ltd. (PAMI). JDA is the main entity today that funds and advances projects in the Old City and surrounding area, from different festivals such as the Festival of Lights through trail restoration, lighting and construction of a promenade, to wide-scale site development such as that of the Mount of Olives cemetery, linking national parks around the Old City and more. The Israeli government allocated 350 million shekels for 2013-2019 to develop the Old City basin – an average of 50 million shekels per year. PAMI is responsible for some of the main tourist sites in the Old City such as the Davidson Center adjacent to the Western and Southern Walls, the Ramparts Walk, Zedekiah’s Cave next to Damascus Gate and more.
The main influence of the Ministry of Environmental Protection in the Historic Basin, is through the Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). As the entity authorized to declare lands as national parks, the INPA is a stakeholder of any changes made within the boundaries of such an area. The INPA is authorized to prevent any construction or development projects if they are destructive to the character of that park. At the same time the INPA has a great deal of power to advance projects considered touristic or those whose objective is defined as heritage protection. The area surrounding the Old City is declared “City of David National Park” (since 1974). This national park includes the City of David site, much of the Silwan village and Hinnom Valley/Wadi Rababa (see map below). The “Emek Zurim National Park” was declared in 1998 and is located northeast of the City of David National Park. This park is situated between the a-Tsawane neighborhood and the Hebrew University. Between the Isawiyya and a-Tur villages, on lands belonging to Palestinian residents, the NPA is working to advance a national park to be named “Mount Scopus Slopes”. The park was approved by the Building and Planning Committee, but is back in discussion following appeals by the residents of the villages and the organization “Bimkom.” As of now, the park has not yet been approved, and Elkin, as Minister of Environmental Protection, very well may work to advance the process. The national park map (attached) shows that many lands around the Old City have been declared national parks.
Although the two portfolios held by Minister Elkin do not equate to one large portfolio in the context of the Israeli government, he has a great deal of influential power on Jerusalem. When focusing on the Historic Basin including the Old City and surrounding area, the two portfolios grant him the power to advance the decade-long right wing vision of strengthening the Israeli hold on the Historic Basin by strengthening and expanding the national parks and development with the pretense of advancing tourism and archaeological research.
Elkin, who often expresses his opinions on Jerusalem in the media, will be able to use his authority in the two ministries to expedite projects that require cooperation between the National Parks Authority and the Jerusalem Development Authority, or between the settlers and PAMI. One can assume that in the upcoming years the Old City and surrounding area’s character will be greatly influenced by Zeev Elkin’s position in the two offices and the decisions he will make as such.
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