Israel seeks ways to bolster hold on Jerusalem

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 |  by Staff Writer

Israel on Wednesday will celebrate 40 years with a unified Jerusalem as its capital, despite the fact that most of the world refuses to recognize Jewish sovereignty over the entire holy city.

A mere seven foreign ambassadors will attend the official state ceremony marking Jerusalem Day. Most conspicuous among those boycotting the event will be the representatives from Europe and the US.

But as Israel joyously remembers the 1967 liberation of eastern Jerusalem from Jordanian occupation, many officials fear that dangerous demographic trends could effectively wrest control of half the city from the Jewish state and put it in Palestinian hands.

According to numbers released by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics this week, just under 11,000 Israelis moved to Jerusalem in 2006, while 17,000 left the city - a net loss of some 6,000.

Meanwhile, the Arab Muslim population of the city is expanding, and is expected to gain parity with the current Jewish majority by 2035, barring any changes to today's growth rates.

In an effort to prevent such a scenario, Member of Knesset Yisrael Katz of the opposition Likud Party on Monday submitted a bill proposing to merge Jerusalem with its largest Jewish suburbs.

If implemented, Jerusalem would join Ma'aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Betar Illit and Mevasseret Zion in a special "Jerusalem Regional Council." Residents of the suburbs would vote for mayor of Jerusalem, while also maintaining their own municipal councils.

Katz said the move would significantly boost Jerusalem's Jewish majority and remove the threat of a "demographic revolution" any time in the near future.

As the bill is unlikely to be popular in the suburbs, some of which have for decades resisted being absorbed by Jerusalem, Israel's government is looking for other solutions to the demographic problem that can be implemented immediately.

Among the measures proposed by the cabinet on Sunday were a canceling of the employer's tax in Jerusalem, the transfer of more government offices to the capital, construction of a new court complex, and the establishment of an institute for Jerusalem studies.

While the ideas look good on paper, analysts say Jerusalem's problems will only be solved once young Israelis can find in the capital the same kind of attractive job opportunities and affordable housing that are available in the rest of the country.

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