Bill to hinder East Jerusalem withdrawal clears first hurdle

Lawmakers on Wednesday approved in its preliminary reading a bill that would require a special two-thirds support of the Knesset to relinquish any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians under a future peace accord.

The bill, which was proposed by Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and has coalition backing, cleared the initial hurdle in the Knesset with 58 MKs in favor and 48 opposed.

“The goal of the bill is to prevent concessions as part of diplomatic deals,” said Moalem-Refaeli on Wednesday. “Jerusalem will never be on the negotiating table.

“The State of Israel will not allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem. Get it into your heads that Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish people and will remain the capital of the Jewish people for all eternity,” she said.

Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli speaks during a vote on the so-called Regulation Bill on December 7, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The bill, an amendment to the Basic Law on Jerusalem, would make it harder for any government to divide the city by requiring 80 of the 120 MKs to support relinquishing any part of Jerusalem.

Currently, the Jerusalem Law, passed in 1980 and amended in 2000, states: “No authority that is stipulated in the law of the State of Israel or of the Jerusalem Municipality may be transferred either permanently or for an allotted period of time to a foreign body, whether political, governmental or to any other similar type of foreign body.”

With no provision in the Basic Law specifying how it can be amended, it currently can be overturned with a simple majority.

The bill must still pass three readings and at least two committee write-ups in the Knesset, an unlikely feat in the week 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.

Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) said the bill was “very important” to safeguard Jerusalem from future concessions.

“Although in this government the law isn’t necessary, we must protect Jerusalem also for the future,” he said.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, a former peace negotiator, railed against the bill in the Knesset plenum, calling it a “cynical bill that is preventing us from separating from the Palestinians.”

“This is not the Jerusalem bill, but rather the Kafr Aqab, Tzur Baher and Shuafat refugee camp bill,” said Livni, referring to Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. “These are villages with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that even Bennett as education minister doesn’t apply Israeli education there. It is not toward the municipal Jerusalem that the Jewish people pray, but rather the real Jerusalem.”

Jewish Home party leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks in response to the UN vote against Israeli settlements, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, on December 25, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jewish Home leader Bennett has touted the bill as making the division of Jerusalem “impossible.”

A spokesman for the Jewish Home party said last month that the proposed legislation was intended to strengthen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position vis-a-vis the new administration of US President Donald Trump.

In May, hours before Trump arrived in Israel during his first major foray abroad as president, Netanyahu declared that Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s holy sites was not up for negotiation and said the city will always be Israel’s capital.

Trump has expressed his desire to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, which he has described as the “ultimate deal.”

In recent months the United Nations cultural body UNESCO has passed a series of resolutions that diminish or deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and refer to Israel as an occupying power.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, but the move has not been recognized internationally and most countries refuse to recognize any part of the city as Israel’s capital, saying it was an issue that will need to be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians.

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