Ministers push bill that could stymie East Jerusalem withdrawal

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday unanimously backed a bill that aims to make it more difficult to give up sections of Jerusalem in a future peace deal.

The basic law currently requires the consent of at least 61 MKs, a majority in the 120-member Knesset, for handing over sovereign control of any part of the capital to foreign governments or agencies, including the Palestinians.

The bill would raise that to an 80-MK minimum, or fully two-thirds of the Knesset, a threshold that likely makes it all but impossible for a future Israeli government to obtain the Knesset’s approval for withdrawing from Jerusalem.

The bill must still pass three readings and at least two committee write-ups in the Knesset, an unlikely feat in the two weeks left in the current Knesset session. It will likely not advance further until the Knesset returns from its fall recess in October.

The bill was advanced two weeks ago by Jewish Home lawmakers at the behest of Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett (R) shakes hands with Minister for Jerusalem Affiars Zeev Elkin after a vote on the so-called Regulation Bill, a controversial bill that seeks to legitimize illegal West Bank outposts, December 7, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“We will prevent a situation like in 2000 when [then-prime minister] Ehud Barak wanted to hand over the Temple Mount and two-thirds of the Old City to [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat” at the Camp David talks, Bennett said Sunday in a Twitter post.

In practice, it’s not clear that the new bill would increase the threshold of votes required to withdraw from parts of Jerusalem. While the bill demands 80 votes for withdrawal, it requires only 61 to amend the law itself – for example, by lowering the 80-vote threshold. That is, under the new bill, 61 MKs could vote to reduce the threshold from 80 to 61, then vote to withdraw from parts of Jerusalem.

The original bill, proposed by Jewish Home lawmakers in early July, required 80 votes for withdrawal and a similar 80-vote minimum for changing the law, but the latter stipulation was removed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked over concerns that it might be unconstitutional.

The bill was the subject of an angry dispute between the Jewish Home and Likud parties after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed off an earlier vote on it on July 2, saying its authors had failed to coordinate the bill with other coalition parties.

The delay led to a week-long negotiations period between Bennett and Likud’s Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin.

Bennett criticized Likud at the time, saying, “We are sorry narrow political considerations outweigh the need to prevent the division of Jerusalem. We will continue pushing this bill, and will do all we can to advance it in the upcoming days,” he said in a statement. “Jerusalem will be united by actions, not words.”

Likud, in turn, replied that “Jewish Home apparatchiks know well that Prime Minister Netanyahu supports the bill. He supported it back in 2007. They also know that by the coalition agreements, any amendments to a [constitutional] basic law require the agreement of all coalition partners. But instead of reaching for agreement and cooperation, Jewish Home prefers childish politicking. Likud is committed to Jerusalem forever remaining united under Israeli sovereignty, so we won’t get dragged into the kindergarten [fights] of Bennett and Shaked, but rather advance a bill together with all the coalition partners.”

In a video posted to his Facebook page, Bennett said the prime minister had hoped to “bury” the proposal but would not succeed.

“We will pass this law,” he promised.


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