The tense and uncertain political, situation in the Middle East has not prevented Israel's development programme for Jerusalem going ahead at full speed.
The tense and uncertain political, situation in the Middle East has not prevented Israel's development programme for Jerusalem going ahead at full speed. Work continues on building the "New Jerusalem" at a pace that is only limited by the shortages of manpower and materials.
Israel intends to make the city more beautiful, and in the long-term consolidate the city as the nation's united capital. At the same time as new houses and flats are constructed, archaeologists are excavating into the rich historical layers of earth that lie beneath the city.
But both activities - the archaeological excavations and the building - have aroused international and internal controversy. Last November, at the General Conference of the United Nations Educational and Scientific Cooperation Organisation (UNESCO), the Arab and Communist delegates, backed by Third World representatives, alleged that the Israeli construction programme and archaeological excavations were endangering Moslem monuments and altering the character of the Holy City.
UNESCO experts who had visited Jerusalem previously, reported that these accusations were "exaggerated". Nevertheless, the 135(?) member Conference agreed to cut off Israel's twelve thousand dollar cultural allocation for 1975. Israel was also denied its request to join the European regional group of UNESCO, where it had previously been an "observer" nation. Israel is now the only UNESCO member without a regional identity, although it contributed one hundred and eleven thousand pounds to UNESCO's budget in 1974.
Earlier last year Jordan had called on the UN Secretary-General Dr. Waldheim, to halt Israeli archaeological work in the old part of the city. Jordan's UN representative said that reports reaching his Government indicated that Israel was "engaged in destructive excavations" around and beside the Al-Aqsa mosque which is an important Moslem shrine.
Of even more concern to the Arab population still living in Jerusalem, is the new building development. They see it as a threat that could reduce the Arab population to a minority, and cut it off from the West Bank. The most moderate of the three Arab newspapers in east Jerusalem recently pointed out that Israel's programme for settling 40,000 Jewish families in the former Arab areas of the city and surrounding district, could mean as many as 250,000 Inhabitance which would almost double the population.
Arab leaders in the city have also expressed the fear that the Muslim shrines of the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock will become part of an Israeli "fortress city" within a few years, cut off from the rest of the Arab world.
To the Israelis, however, most of the work that has been done in the city has improved the face of Jerusalem. Last year a 20-acre park near the Jaffa Gate was dedicated as the first section of the national park being built round the Old City walls, and the four famous synagogues in the Jewish quarter are being reconstructed and restored. Attractive terraces of flats and houses have been built inside the Old City walls, and many important and influential Israelis have move their home there.
The Arabs, however, see all this as a method of preparing the ground for when peace negotiations begin. They are alarmed at the apparent general acceptance of the Israeli argument that in peace talks the future of Jerusalem must be the last problem to be considered. They believe that with every day that passes the Arab position becomes worse, and they would like to see a complete standstill on Israeli building in the city, until future negotiations have decided the long term future of Jerusalem.