Train of trouble


As if it were not enough that the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Israeli government’s plan to dig a railway tunnel under Jerusalem’s Old City will only add to the controversy and perhaps ignite even more violence.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s proposal involves constructing two underground stations and excavating more than three kilometers of tunnel 50 meters beneath central Jerusalem and under the politically and historically sensitive Old City, stretching to the Western Wall. The route will run close to the Haram Al-Sharif compound housing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The project is estimated to cost more than $700 million and, if approved, would take four years to complete.

For good measure, Katz wants to call one of its stops the “Donald John Trump” station in recognition of the US president’s Jerusalem declaration.

It doesn’t matter what the stations will be called. The problem is the train itself. Previous Israeli excavation work around the compound behind the Western Wall has triggered Palestinian protests. Entire Palestinian uprisings have erupted following irresponsible decisions taken by the Israeli government in relation to Jerusalem and its holy sites.

The partition resolution 181 of 1947, and UN Security Council resolutions 194, 2253 and 252 among others, make the legal status of Jerusalem very clear. It is an occupied territory. No measures should be taken to endanger it or alter its character and its fate should be determined by agreement between the two sides of the conflict.

These resolutions were approved by all nations, including the US. In fact, in 1969, the US ambassador to the UN affirmed that Jerusalem, like the rest of the occupied territories, was subject to the rules of international law concerning occupied territories and that Israel did not have the right to make changes in the laws or administration of the city. The US reiterated this position in exchanges of letters on the Camp David agreement and numerous times since. It was the unequivocal American position one year after the signing of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and has been followed henceforward by five US administrations that spanned 37 years.

The train in itself may appear a harmless machine, a mode of transport used all over the world. But because of the route it will be chugging through, and the climate of controversy it is being built around, the train symbolizes a decision which strips Jerusalem of its unique stature as a city for all religions, with a special place in UN resolutions and humanity’s conscience. Now, Jerusalem is being seized by a country that embraces clear plans to erase the symbols of all other religions in pursuit of fanatic Jewish beliefs, further devolving radical religious conflict into a zero-sum game that is intolerant of the other in any way, shape or form. It also allows the expansion of settlements that destroy the city’s historic features, monuments, buildings and streets.

Israel will now also allow a train that would cause irreparable damage to the historic remains of the ancient city. UNESCO, which has designated the Old City a World Heritage site, has expressed concern about tunneling and excavations. Furthermore, two sections of the line also run through the West Bank, which is land the Palestinians envision for a future state, a position widely held as international consensus.

Like all politicians, Katz, who has served as transport minister for eight years, wants to go places. A senior Cabinet official who also serves as Israel’s intelligence minister, Katz is a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is seen by many as his likely eventual successor as head of the Likud Party and has hopes of one day being prime minister. He believes hopping on the train will further his political ambitions. Known in Israeli politics as “the bulldozer,” Katz and his country are certainly bulldozing their way into notoriety.