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Analysis: In Jerusalem's old city, plans to build a parking lot might stoke tensions.
The city’s plan would include another element that might raise the ire of Palestinian leaders. City officials intend to close the existing surface parking lot. They’ll use the space to build new housing for the largely ultra-Orthodox Israelis who inhabit the Jewish Quarter.
“With Jerusalem, you always have the problem of balancing conservation and development,” said Ruth Lapidoth, an emeritus professor of international law at Hebrew University who has written extensively on Jerusalem. “There has already been a lot of building in the Jewish Quarter anyway, but it seems the breaching of the actual walls would have to be considered very seriously.”
When I first came to Jerusalem in the summer of 1996, a city development association opened an exit to a tunnel in the Muslim Quarter. It was intended to allow tourists to pass along the wall of Herod’s Temple underneath the quarter’s houses.
Palestinian leaders used the opportunity to spark fears that Israel was undermining the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa Mosque. Fighting resulted throughout the West Bank, leaving 96 Palestinians and 16 Israeli soldiers dead.
Even if six years of intifada in the last decade have reduced the capacity of either side to get up the will for such violence, the Old City of Jerusalem remains — to use diplomatic speech — sensitive.
“This plan is provocative,” said the Palestinian Authority’s Khatib, “and it would be sure to cause protests. Nobody can say how far those protests might go.”
Kaiser Wilhelm’s breach wasn’t the last time the configuration of the Old City gates was altered; the Dung Gate was expanded during the post-war Jordanian rule. But the last entirely new gate to be cut through the wall was, obviously, the New Gate, which was cut in 1887 to provide better access to the Christian Quarter.
An additional thorny question might be what the gate would be called, as the Old City’s gates have names, which are often different in Hebrew, Arabic and English. For the prospective gate, Parking Lot Gate lacks the necessary historic ring. One wonders also would the name of the 123-year-old New Gate have to be changed.