Archive for April 8, 2010

‘Holyland’ Hotel scandal rivets Israeli attention

April 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Ha'aretz headlines 'Holyland' scandal

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Normally  commentators would be worrying for days about the report in The Washington Post that a coterie of present and former National Security Advisors are pressing President Obama to proclaim their solution for Israel and Palestine.

However, that story was below the fold on the front page of Ha’aretz, and is missing from several of the internet news pages.

Above the fold on Ha’aretz, with a huge headline and large photo, as well as featured on radio headlines and internet news sites, is the story that will keep us on edge for several days. 

It is being called the biggest corruption scandal in the country’s history, focused on what is described as the ugliest eyesore on Jerusalem’s skyline.

Those who visited Jerusalem through the 1980s might remember the Holyland Hotel. It was a small facility as hotels go, set in a piney wood, alongside the real attraction of the place: a scale model of the Old City as researchers said it looked in Biblical times. 

Then the model was moved elsewhere, the hotel and trees came down, and up went a massive  apartment development that overcame protests by neighborhood and environmental groups. The project grew beyond what was originally approved via subsequent modifications of original plans and approvals. The results dominate a prominent hilltop. They are the biggest things to be seen while driving on an intracity freeway, as well as from a large slice of the city.

Currently the head of the consortium that built the project, plus several people said to be go-betweens for the transfer of millions of shekels in bribes, and the chief city planner at the time of the project’s development are sitting in jail while the police continue their investigations. The man identified as the major go-between is an attorney, who for many years was a close confidant of Ehud Olmert. The point is made in the headline, and for those who do not get its significance the attorney’s picture is provided alongside a picture of Olmert.

We know there is additional information that the courts have sealed for the time being. Virtually everyone who is talking and writing asks, who else? There is little doubt that the unnamed individual is the missing piece in the incomplete puzzle: the prominent official who was the principal recipient of the alleged bribes.

And who else but the man who was mayor at the time, and later Minister of Trade and Industry, an office that is said to have been involved in the shenanigans?

Ehud Olmert is currently on trial for other alleged offenses against good government. Currently he is out of the country, and has had to delay his scheduled return. He says he will return next week.

It is not customary to actually arrest present or former presidents or prime ministers, even when allegations extend to rape or economic crimes. They are, after all, honorable persons, and should be counted upon to present themselves when called to court.

Now you know everything that I know.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University