Global protests against firms invested in a light-rail system in the occupied Palestinian territories refuse to die.
An ill-fated light railway under construction in Jerusalem was originally heralded by Israeli officials as a way to cement the city’s “unification” four decades after the city’s Palestinian half was illegally annexed to Israel.
But the only unity generated among Jewish and Palestinian residents after four years of disruptions to the city’s traffic and businesses is general agreement that the project is rapidly becoming a white elephant.
After engineering problems, rows between the contractors and the municipality and delays caused by archaeological discoveries along the route, completion of the first 14 kilometers section of track is not expected until the end of next year at the earliest — more than 18 months behind schedule. The budget overspend is estimated at more than $500 million.
This week, in an indication of the deepening crisis, Israel’s Dan bus company was forced to step in to buy the five percent stake of Veolia, a French company that is supposed to operate the line for the next 30 years. Dan, which is waiting for the Israeli government to approve its bid, has no prior experience of running a rail system.
Shmuel Elgrably, a spokesman for the transit system, told the Haaretz newspaper last week that the loss of Veolia had “screwed” the project.
Veolia’s unexpected withdrawal from City Pass, a French-Israeli private consortium backed in part by public finances, is being claimed as a victory by Palestinian officials and activists whose boycott and lobbying efforts appear to have forced the company to quit the project.
They have accused Veolia and another French firm, Alstom, which is laying the tracks and providing the rail cars, of violating international law by working on a project designed to benefit Jewish settlements in the occupied part of Jerusalem.