Rendering Courtesy of Jerusalem Municipality
Officials say cable car system will relieve traffic congestion in the Old City, but project has opponents.

Jerusalem city officials are moving ahead with plans to build a controversial cable-car project despite a decision by a French consulting firm to back out of the project for apparent political reasons.

The 2.3-kilometer long cable-car system, a $32-million project, is designed to carry thousands of passengers daily between the city's downtown and the Old City, to reduce traffic in the area of sites holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Part of the system route crosses Jerusalem's eastern section, which has a mostly Arab population and has been in dispute between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Consultant SAFEGE canceled its participation in the project, which had included doing a feasibility study in 2013, "to avoid any political interpretation," the firm said in a statement to international media. The firm and its parent Suez Environnement were reportedly advised by the French government to withdraw, in the wake of pressure from the Palestinian Authority, according to reports.

“The project is not dependent on any one company and will be expedited,” the Jerusalem Municipality said in a statement to ENR.  The municipality said that it views the project as an efficient, advanced and quick solution for transporting millions of visitors annually from all faiths to the holy basin in the Old City of Jerusalem. Total travel time would be five minutes.

However there is strong Palestinian opposition to the proposed project as well as from environmental groups.  The French newspaper Le Figaro reported that Palestinian chief negotiator with Israel Saeb Erekat charged in a letter to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that the plan would lead to the illegal expropriation of private property, some of which belongs to the Wakf, the religious organization that oversees Islamic sites around Jerusalem.

Environmental groups charge that the system will affect views of the Old City.

The proposed system would be built to carry up to 4,000 passengers an hour with four stations: Emek Refaim Street in West Jerusalem; the Dung Gate in the Old City which is adjacent to Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall and the Al Aqsa mosque, the Seven Arches Hotel on the Mount of Olives and the valley of Gethsemane. 

The three stations in the Old City are all in territory annexed by Israel following the 1967 Six Day War. In addition to the stations, the project will require dozens of enormous columns to support the cables. The municipality said it plans to submit the project to the regional planning committee for approval in the coming months.

The project is being jointly developed by the municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority, a joint municipal and government body.

“The cable car will provide a transport solution for the growing number of visitors to the Western Wall and the Old City and provide them with easier access to the holy sites,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, adding that it would also boost tourism.