Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Daniel Elazar Papers Index

Israel: Constitution, Government and Politics

Commission on the Extension
of the Boundaries of Jerusalem: Minority Report

Daniel J. Elazar

Let me begin by indicating my great respect for my colleagues on the Commission and for the process by which the Commission did its work. Procedurally, it could not have been better anywhere in the world. The Commission heard every viewpoint, encouraged everyone who was interested to appear before it, read every relevant piece of material, conducted several site visits to better understand the situation on the ground, and in general conducted its business with deliberation and comprehensiveness. I am very proud to have been a member of it and to have been associated with my colleagues on it, all of whom reached their decisions on the basis of their understanding of the national interest and, as far as I could tell, in no case were swayed by narrower interests.

Nevertheless, after much soul searching, I feel it necessary to file this Minority Report because I believe that, while many of the reasons for the majority decisions have merit, the overall recommendations seek remedies that are obsolete and that it is time to recommend an entirely new approach to dealing with the issues raised.

The major concerns with which the Commission dealt are undeniably important ones. It is important to provide space for the growth of the Jewish population in the Jerusalem area and it is vitally important that there be further economic development in the Jerusalem area to provide jobs not only for new residents of the region but also for those presently residing in Jerusalem and environs and their children. The issue dividing us is how that is best done. I do not believe that it is best done by expanding the boundaries and thereby the population of the City of Jerusalem itself for the following reasons:

1. It is true that there is not a great deal of further room for new housing within today's Jerusalem, but there is every reason to believe that Jerusalem has reached its maximum effective population size and that any increase in its population is likely to diminish the quality of life within the city. While it is true that students of the subject do not have any final answers with regard to optimal city size, the studies to date show that economies of scale in urban areas are achieved up to 250,000 population. Between 250,000 and 750,000, the balance between greater economies of scale and emerging dis-economies is more or less even. Over 750,000 population there is little gain for economies of scale and considerable loss through dis-economies.

Jerusalem today is among the better governed cities of the world but it is unlikely that, in the Israeli context, a larger city would be able to retain that level of governmental performance. The government of Tel Aviv, for example, has undoubtedly improved as it has become a smaller city within its metropolitan area. It would do no service to the City of Jerusalem by essentially forcing it to become much larger than it already is.

Additional people moving into the Jerusalem area can just as well settle outside the municipal boundaries in adjacent areas where they will have the same impact on the overall demographic situation as those within the city. Limitations on Jerusalem's growth effect the non-Jewish as well as the Jewish population and the issue now is a regional demographic balance, not a municipal one.

2. While it is certainly true that there need to be more jobs in the Jerusalem area for present and future Jerusalemites, there is no reason why the places of employment themselves need to be within the city limits. There are no barriers to Jerusalemites driving across municipal boundaries to places of employment a few kilometers outside of the city. Indeed, many people commute 30 kilometers or more to places of work without considering the burden to be an onerous one. By all means let us encourage more places of employment in the Jerusalem area but we need not insist that they be incorporated into Jerusalem itself in order to be available to Jerusalemites.

3. As cities the world over have learned, there is no way to stop suburbanization. No matter how large the area encompassed in a city, there will be those who will seek amenities of a less urban lifestyle or a smaller community and settle beyond the municipal borders. Indeed, annexation simply pushes the process of suburbanization further away from the city.

Thus the annexation of Mevasseret Zion in order to prevent the development of suburbs around Jerusalem will simply lead to increased building further to the west. Stopping suburbanization in the west would require that Jerusalem annex all the way to the Mediterranean, and then there would be suburbanization to the north and the south. The experience of the rest of the world should teach us that big cities need to reconcile themselves to the suburbanization process and find means to deal with the problems that it presents in ways other than attempting to eliminate it through annexation of ever-greater territories.

Nor is this undesirable. It is already apparent that the cost to Jerusalem of annexing Mevasseret Zion will be greater than the income it gains through increased taxation. In mature metropolitan areas, the costs and benefits tend to balance out among the various municipal units, according to the research available. By the same token, experience has shown that there are no economies-of-scale through annexation. Any expected savings are soon absorbed by the need for additional bureaucracy equipment, and infrastructure to serve larger areas. In all the municipal consolidations that took place in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, the end result was an increase in cost, not a reduction.

4. Moreover, that increase in cost was accompanied by a diminution of civic spirit as smaller jurisdictions were absorbed into bigger ones. Thus annexations are a direct blow at democratic self-government and civic involvement, something which we are now trying to encourage in Israel.

5. It is understood that the annexations proposed are for development purposes, but much, if not most, of the territory in question is not particularly suited to urban development, which can be done only at very substantial cost to the environment and to the quality of life in the Jerusalem area, not to speak of excessive infrastructure costs. Preservation of suburbs, whether as suburban moshavim or as small satellite cities with low-density development, is a far better way to treat the landscape than to move in with massive medium and high-rise development. One need only look at what has happened to the landscape at Har Nof, Ramot and Gilo in contrast to Mevasseret Zion, Beit Zayit, Motza or Motza Elit to see the difference. We have an obligation not only to house the growing population but also to protect Israel's environment for future generations, especially in the Jerusalem area where Jerusalem sits like a jewel on top of the mountain, surrounded by a landscape of green and gold rather than one of concrete and asphalt.

What then can be done to confront the real problems of an expanding metropolitan area. Here I think that the time has come to move beyond the unworkable palliatives of annexation and to develop other devices for managing regional problems. Two such devices suggest themselves:

1. A special metropolitan service district could be established which would have responsibility for regional planning and for levying a basic metropolitan tax to provide funds for services rendered by individual municipalities for benefit of the entire metropolitan region. Such a metropolitan district could provide a properly structured framework for municipal growth no matter what the municipal jurisdiction.

2. A second alternative would be to implement a more comprehensive plan to divide Israel into regional governments similar to the provinces of Belgium and the Netherlands, the Anglo-American counties, or German kriese -- general purpose, regional governments embracing the municipalities and the regional councils within their territory and providing certain common regional services for them all. For historic reasons having to do with the difference between urban and rural settlement patterns in the country, Israel's urban and rural local governments do not share any common framework, thereby making coordination between them very difficulty and offering no proper local framework for dealing with regional problems. An Israel divided into somewhere between 9 and 18 general purpose "provinces" or "counties" would solve many problems that the Ministry of Interior is presently trying to resolve by municipal mergers and annexations which, as indicated above, will not do the job.

I would recommend then that Jerusalem remain within its present boundaries but that either a multi-purpose, municipal service district or, better yet, a county be established to include the present City of Jerusalem and the cities, towns, moshavim, kibbutzim, and territories as far west as the Shoresh area or Sha'ar Haggai through which orderly development can be encouraged and managed.

Elazar Papers Index / JCPA Home Page / Top of Page