Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Monday addressed, for the first time, the Holyland real estate scandal in which his two predecessors Uri Lupolianski and Ehud Olmert are suspected of taking bribes. "It is regrettable and painful to see that such a project was ever built. I gave an order to examine and freeze anything that is still reversible," he said.
Barkat met with students at the city's Binyanei Ha'uma convention center and answered questions that were approved in advance. One of the questions addressed the bribery affair. "The Holyland affair is very painful for the city of Jerusalem on a number of levels. On the hill from which one can see a breathtaking view of the city, there was once a small model of the ancient city and the new one. People would come and this was one of the most beautiful spots for hotels" he said.
He commented on the change made to the project, which was initially intended for tourism, to a housing project, and said that there are currently 12,000 hotel rooms in Jerusalem, with plans to increase their number to 30,000.
"This serves a serious blow to the city and its future potential. If the allegations of inappropriate conduct are true, this is a serious blow to the municipal system," he said.
He spoke of the changes he has made in this matter: "The moment I was elected, I gave an order that land meant for hotels and commerce must not be converted into housing areas. I even cancelled an entire plan in Talpiot six months ago, before the affair broke. I am hopeful that, with the new system, which was established in the past year, we will be able to gain the public's trust."
Last week the Jerusalem Planning and Construction Committee discussed the Holyland real estate "monster" following a demand to freeze the construction of the three remaining buildings. The committee decided to suspend construction for a period of 100 days, at the end of which a agreement would be formed with its entrepreneurs.
The city argued that the entrepreneurs "don't have the permits to complete the construction." The entrepreneurs' counsel responded saying, "You knew about this all along and didn't say a word until now."