French firm pulls out of controversial Jerusalem cable car project

Palestinian Authority complained to Paris about Safege’s involvement in the project. French finance and foreign ministries warned the company about the legal risks, and it pulled out.

By Nir Hasson | Haaretz | Mar. 25, 2015 |

Safege of France, which was slated to play a key planning role in the Jerusalem cable car project, has canceled its participation after being warned against it by the French finance and foreign ministries, a Wednesday media report said.

To “avoid giving any political interpretation,” Suez Environnement “has decided not to continue,” Le Figaro on Wednesday quoted a spokesman for Safege’s parent as saying.

Another French company that was mentioned in connection with the Jerusalem cable car has also declined to get involved.

The project, described in detail in Haaretz three weeks ago, is expected to encounter much opposition for its political as well as environmental and urban-planning implications. Many observers are skeptical that the plan will ever come to fruition.

Erekat’s initiative

Le Figaro reported that on March 10, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, contacted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to complain about the French company’s willingness to take part in building the cable car in East Jerusalem.

“The plan will lead to the illegal expropriation of private property, some of which belongs to the Waqf,” Erekat wrote to Fabius. The Waqf controls the major Islamic sites around the Old City, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Subsequently, the French administration secretly called a meeting with Safege’s directors. On March 12, the French Finance Ministry warned Safege’s board about the legal risks the project entailed, and the company says it sought a legal opinion on the matter.

Another French company that had expressed interest in the project, Puma, has since declined to get involved, too. On March 10, Puma, a prominent company in cable transportation, said it “did not sign any contract and did not conduct preliminary feasibility inspection for the construction project in Jerusalem,” according to Le Figaro.

Goal: reducing traffic

The Jerusalem plan envisions a cable car system that would substitute for other transport modes to the Western Wall area and other sites in Jerusalem’s historic basin.

A presentation prepared by the planners, and seen by Haaretz, shows four planned cable car stations: at the First Train Station at the end of Emek Refaim Street; next to Dung Gate by the Western Wall; next to the Seven Arches Hotel on the Mount of Olives; and near Gethsemane.

The cost is estimated at NIS 125 million ($31.7 million). Supporters of the project expect the new system to significantly reduce vehicle traffic around the Old City.

The project has yet to be submitted to the planning committees for approval, but it is being energetically promoted by the municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority (a part-government, part-municipal body).

The right-wing organization Elad, which operates the City of David National Park, is also promoting the project.

Budget items

Documents from the JDA’s tenders committee show that in the past year, a budget of more than 1 million shekels was allotted to promote the project. Correspondence with Safege, at a cost of 87,400 euros, was done to advance the detailed planning of the project.

The JDA also approved correspondence with nine Israeli companies, including a management company, building consultants, electrical engineers, land consultants, accessibility consultants, architects and more.

Some 55,000 shekels was allotted for consultations with Seter Security Consulting about securing the cable car machinery, and 412,000 shekels was allotted to the project’s planners, the firm of Rosenfeld Arens.

At the meetings of the tenders committee, some who were present sought to reduce the costs, since if the planning committees do not approve the plans, this money will have been wasted.