Israel’s transport minister is pushing ahead with a plan to dig a railway tunnel under Jerusalem’s Old City, which will end at the Western Wall with a station named after US President Donald Trump.
The tunnel will pass close to sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Yisrael Katz’s plan, currently in the initial stages, involves constructing two underground stations and excavating more than two miles of tunnel beneath downtown Jerusalem and under the politically sensitive Old City.
The project would extend Jerusalem’s soon-to-open high-speed rail line from Tel Aviv to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.
The route will run close to - but not directly under - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where tradition holds that Jesus was crucified and buried, and a contested holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
Previous excavations by Israel near the holy site - the spiritual epicentre of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - have sparked violent Palestinian protests.
Because of those sensitivities, the proposal will likely meet with heavy resistance from the Palestinians, neighbouring Arab countries and the international community.
Mr Katz, a senior Cabinet official who also serves as Israel’s intelligence minister, is a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is seen by many as his likely eventual successor as head of the Likud party.
Transportation ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia said the project, if approved, would take four years to complete.
Mr Katz’s office said the minister advanced the plan in a recent meeting with Israel Railways executives, and has fast-tracked it in the planning committees.
Mr Katz said a high-speed rail station would allow visitors to reach "the beating heart of the Jewish people - the Western Wall and the Temple Mount". He proposed naming the station after Mr Trump "for his brave and historic decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital" earlier this month.
Mr Trump’s announcement has enraged the Palestinians and much of the Muslim world.
The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution last week condemning the move, with several traditional American allies breaking with Washington to vote in favour of the motion.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, in 1967, and annexed it in a move not recognised internationally.
#Israel: Israel’s transportation minister Yisrael Katz is pushing ahead with a plan to dig a railway tunnel under Jerusalem’s Old City, passing near sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims — and ending at the Western Wall with a station named after President Donald Trump. @AP pic.twitter.com/mCxrl06v9b— BeeNewsDaily (@BeeNewsDaily) December 27, 2017
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and a longstanding international consensus holds that the fate of the city should be decided through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Ikrema Sabri, a senior Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, denounced the planned train line extension, saying that Palestinians will not accept "any change or act in the occupied territories".
He said that "giving the name of Trump to this project will not give it any legitimacy. It would be just another implementation of the unacceptable decision of President Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel".
Digging railway tunnels to the Western Wall would also entail excavating in Jerusalem’s Old City, where religious and political sensitivities - as well as layers of archaeological remains from the city’s 3,000-year history - could make for a logistical and legal quagmire.
- AP and Digital desk