- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

JERUSALEM — Israelis mark the 40th anniversary this week of the “unification” of Jerusalem in celebrations laced with apprehension that the country’s claimed capital is in economic decline and that Jews could one day find themselves a minority.

The city that is beloved by pilgrims of three faiths — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — is also among Israel’s poorest.

As a result, it is slowly being abandoned by young Israelis because of a dearth of jobs and its expensive real estate market.

At the same time, the steady growth of Palestinian Arab residents has prompted Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky to warn that the city will lose its Jewish majority by 2020.

Beyond these challenges, Jerusalem also has an image problem among Israelis. Some consider the city unsafe because of the Palestinian bombing campaign several years ago, while others are alienated by images of a stifling political culture and the increasing dominance of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Israel Radio cited a study showing that 40 percent of new recruits in the Israeli army had never visited Jerusalem, which is less than a two-hour drive from most, if not all, of Israel.

“We must not ignore the ongoing erosion in the status of the city,” said acting Israeli President Dalia Itzik at special parliament session this week.

“The unraveling economic and social resilience” hurts Israel’s effort to strengthen its link to the city as its capital, he said.

In between the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the 1967 Six-Day War, Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan.

After the ‘67 war, Israel expanded the municipality to incorporate all of Arab East Jerusalem.

But some Israelis warn that the government has ignored the city for the better part of two decades, investing too little in road infrastructure and failing to attract the businesses that would draw young Israelis back to Jerusalem.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a former Jerusalem mayor, pledged almost $1.5 billion for development projects and promised to ease taxes on business owners.

“The government needs to invest in Jerusalem and lower taxes,” said Zevulon Orlev, a parliament member from the National Religious Party. “It needs to draw investment for jobs, it needs to invest in education.”

Others complain of a shortage of housing for middle-income wage earners. An inflow of investment money from Jews overseas has artificially inflated real-estate prices, analysts say.

“All my kids want to live in Jerusalem, but they don’t know if they will be able to afford it,” said Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, a research institute.

“The prices in Jerusalem are inflated by the Diaspora Jews” who buy apartments but only occupy them for a short amount of time, he said.

In the past week, Israeli papers reported that the government wants to build new Jewish neighborhoods at the northern and southern tips of the Jerusalem municipality.

But many Jerusalem natives who have left the city say they don’t expect to come back, no matter how much investment is made.

Tair Lapidot, a 23-year old Jerusalem native, said she has never been back on a permanent basis in four years and has no plans to return.

“I didn’t just grow up in Jerusalem, I am 13th generation, and I am the first one to leave who doesn’t plan to continue the generations,” she said. “I’ve seen better places.”

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