Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has delayed plans to move the IDF's military training academy to Mount Scopus, probably due to international pressures, Maariv reported Tuesday. Sources say the IDF has begun looking for other sites for its military program as a result.
The District Planning and Building Committee of Jerusalem has prevented the program from advancing for over a year, despite its importance. The move is part of a greater initiative to strengthen Jerusalem's position as the symbolic and practical capital of Israel.
Former National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror repeatedly gave instructions to delay the program, under the alleged orders of the Prime Minister's Office. The United States has opposed Jerusalem building projects, especially in its outlying neighborhoods, and analysts claim the delay is due to fears of an unpleasant US reaction.
Due to the de facto building freeze in the region, military officials have begun looking elsewhere to house the academy. One candidate is an abandoned military base in Beit Zayit, a Jerusalem suburb. Officials have noted that while no formal plan has been established to move the project to the Beit Zayit base, the proposal stems from ongoing frustration with the government for freezing the project thus far.
The commander in charge of the program, Major General Yossi Beiditch, stated recently in private conversations that he is "ready to move right now with a tent to Mount Scopus, and only then will the project progress."
However, as of now it is unclear whether and when the program will be advanced, despite its tremendous symbolic significance for the state.
The plan to build the Command and Staff College and National Defense College on the site was made several years ago, as part of the national master plan to transfer government institutions to Jerusalem in order to strengthen the capital. In July 2012, the plan was approved by the District Committee. Over a year ago, the deadline for submitting objections passed, paving the way to move the program forward; but since then, the project has been in limbo. Repeated instructions from the political leadership have allegedly stopped it in its tracks.
"If they had not stopped me, I could have gotten it done a long time ago," says a source involved with the details of the project. "The trouble is that we have reached a situation where nothing can advance in the city without the approval of higher politicians. Sometimes the smallest actions require the approval of the prime minister [himself]," according to the source.
"Only when we release terrorists, or when the Palestinian Authority turns to the United Nations, does the Prime Minister's Office give us permission to build. This is an abnormal situation," the source concluded.
Under the plan approved by the District Committee, the project would establish IDF colleges very close to the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. Dalit Zilber, director of the Interior Ministry's Jerusalem District and Chairman of the District Committee, noted at the time that the proposed plan does not clash with environmental and scenic values, yet offers "a well-formed response to the needs of the IDF colleges."
Zilber also noted the project's importance. "Constructing IDF colleges is a key element in establishing Jerusalem as the center of national government institutions," she stated. Currently, those colleges are located at the Glilot Military Base north of Tel Aviv.
The initiative to move the colleges to Jerusalem "has received significant opposition from anti-Israel groups, such as Ir Amim, which is funded by the European Union," writes Maariv. The group holds that Mount Scopus is on the "wrong" side of the 1949 Armistice Lines; however, tests conducted by Israeli officials revealed that the land sits not on the Judea and Samaria side of the lines, but in territory that was a no-man's land between Israel and Jordan after 1949. The same land hosts the Albert Einstein international museum - which, unlike this project, has received significant government backing, especially from President Shimon Peres.
"Under the law, the entire region is Israeli land for all intents and purposes; there was no reason for a delay here," says another one of Maariv's anonymous sources. "If it were not for political pressures, there would be no issue; the land was not under Arab sovereignty at any time."
In the meantime, IDF officials have allegedly raised their hands in frustration at the Jerusalem court.
"Every time we approach Central Command with a building site proposal, they tell us to look again at Beit Zayit, because the base is already built," one source stated.
The source also states, however, that something will have to be done to advance the project, and soon; the Glilot Base needs to move elsewhere due to issues of space. Millions of shekels have already been invested in the project, as well.
"One cannot overstate how important and significant Mount Scopus is to the Jewish people," the source continued. "Yitzhak Rabin gave a speech here after Israel won the Six-Day War. The site overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem."
"If the project keeps being delayed, the IDF has effectively fled from Jerusalem, and the full implications of that are clear," according to the source.
An IDF spokesperson simply responded that "the decision to move the colleges to Mount Scopus will be made in accordance with instructions from government offices." The Prime Minister's Office and the US Embassy declined comment.