Fake news: Trump Station at Western Wall

Dror Marmor

Transport minister Yisrael Katz is wasting NIS 10 million designing a plan for a Jerusalem station that will never be built.

How do you know that a real estate venture in Israel is as real as Donald Trump's hairdo? You put Trump's name on it. It worked excellently well over the past decade; in 2006, it was reported that Trump would build the tallest tower in Israel in Ramat Gan (on the site of the Elite chocolate factory), then the mayor of Netanya said that she had met him in order to promote construction of the "Trump Hotel" on the Netanya beach. Then community leaders in Ashkelon, Israel's southern Riviera, said that Trump would build a giant golf course on the sands of Ashkelon, which would of course bear his name. Well, they said it. Fake news, anyone?

The farce reached a peak last week: Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz told the nation, "Now that US President Donald Trump has officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announced his intention of moving the US embassy there, I have decided to give the Western Wall-Temple Mount railway station in the Jewish Quarter, a few dozen meters from the Western Wall, his name." At least this time, Israel Railways also knows that it's only a game of pretending.

It's an expensive game, though - something like NIS 10 million from Israel Railways' budget for designing an urban building plan for the station. No one thinks, however, that a budget source has to be found for the billions it would cost the public treasury, had anyone taken the idea seriously, even when a bulldozer like Katz is concerned, and even when he said, "It is an extremely important national project." So what if he said it?

Even in a capricious country like Israel, no one is really planning to dig a railway station and tracks under the Old City of Jerusalem, as if there were not over 3,000 years of archeology there. One curious detail: just think about how the religiously observant people now applauding the minister of transport when he promises to connect the Western Wall "with deeds, not words," will do when they discover that the digging will have to continue on the Sabbath, because the tunnel boring machine (TBM) cannot stop in the middle of the digging.

So what has actually happened? Where did Trump Station come from? The minister of transport saw a rather impressive transportation project arising in the capital in recent months, without his having a say in it - a cable car from the main station to the Western Wall. Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat are responsible for this project (the cabinet decision in May allocated NIS 15 million for designing the cable car). As if that were not enough, Barkat is also playing with the idea of replacing Netanyahu, which of course conflicts with Katz's own ambitions.

So Katz last week ordered the train to the Western Wall brought to the National Infrastructure Committee, the committee for rapid promotion of national infrastructure. This is the same committee that is currently discussing the Western Wall cable car (both of them are supposed to start from the city center). For Katz, it is enough that the alternative he presented will confuse the committee ("Wait a minute, were we just talking now about a train or a cable car?"), extend the discussions, and ruin the minister of tourism and mayor's dream of getting credit for a cable car for a long time.

The prophets of Israel, messengers of justice and morality in Jerusalem, are surely turning over in their graves at the idea of giving a railway station in Jerusalem the name of a man like Trump.

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on December 31, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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