Israel’s transport minister is pushing ahead with a plan to extend Jerusalem’s soon-to-open high-speed rail line to the Western Wall, where he wants to name a station after the US president, Donald Trump.
Yisrael Katz’s proposal, which is in the initial planning stage, involves constructing two underground stations and excavating more than two miles (3km) of tunnel beneath downtown Jerusalem and under the politically and historically sensitive Old City. The Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews can pray.
A spokesman for the transport ministry, Avner Ovadia, said the project was estimated to cost more than $700m (£522m) and, if approved, would take four years to complete.
Katz’s office said the minister advanced the plan in a recent meeting with IsraelRailways executives and fast-tracked it in the planning committees.
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”.
Trump’s announcement has enraged the Palestinians and much of the Muslim world. The UN general assembly adopted a resolution last week rejecting the US.’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with several traditional American allies voting in favour of the motion.
The Western Wall train proposal is likely to face opposition from the international community, which does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem and the Old City, which Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed.
The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem and the Old City, home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites, as capital of a future state.
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 its 3,000-year history – could prove a logistical and legal quagmire.
Despite likely opposition to the project, Ovadia said he expected the plans to be approved next year, barring major complications. The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed line is expected to open in the spring.
“There’s no reason why this train won’t be built,” he said. “We already know how to deal with no less difficult opposition.”
Katz has previously proposed other ambitious infrastructure projects, including an artificial island off the coast of the Gaza Strip that would serve as an air and seaport for the Palestinian territory, and a railway connecting Israel and Saudi Arabia.