The security barrier seen in Kafr Aqab, Jerusalem, November 2017.
(photo credit: UDI SHAHAM)
A Knesset panel passed a bill Tuesday that will allow the redrawing of Jerusalem’s municipal borders to move forward, essentially enabling a plan to cut off Arab neighborhoods left behind the security barrier, such as Kafr Akab and the Shuafat refugee camp, from the capital.
The bill – approved by a 9-7 vote in the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee ahead of second and third readings – is an amendment to Basic Law: Jerusalem the Capital of Israel. It also has an article that raises the bar regarding handing over parts of Jerusalem to a foreign entity to require approval by 80 Knesset members in future peace negotiations.
The plan to establish a new municipality in these areas is being promoted by Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who warns of the “demographic challenge” posed to the capital from the neighborhoods behind the barrier.
Elkin claims that because these neighborhoods are located behind the wall and are wide open to the rest of the West Bank, Palestinians are coming to live in them and, due to mixed marriages, the rate of Palestinians in the capital is rising.
Elkin told The Jerusalem Post
that after the bill becomes law, there would be no other obstacles to put the plan forward to the Interior Ministry. He added that he is currently drafting a document with details of the plan that would be presented to the prime minster and discussed in the cabinet.
“When it comes to such a decision, it would be appropriate to present it to the prime minister and hold a cabinet discussion on it,” he said.
Elkin said meetings have been held with officials from the National Security Council and the Interior Ministry, and discussions conducted as to how the new municipal entity would be formed.
He also said he has met with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at a “roundtable” meeting on this subject.
Barkat, however, told the Post
he objects to the plan
, saying the only body that could take care of the situation is the Jerusalem Municipality, and that the “demographic challenge” should be dealt with by attracting people to the capital and not by cutting neighborhoods off.
Critics of the plan, such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, say a new poor and weak municipality would not solve the problems that the strong Jerusalem Municipality has failed to solve over the past decade.
Others say the plan essentially enables the division of Jerusalem by disconnecting these neighborhoods and drawing new borders.
Elkin has stressed repeatedly, however, that the plan does not include transferring sovereignty over these areas to the Palestinian Authority.
The strongest objectors to his plan, he said, are the Israeli Left and PA because “they know that it is a threat to the idea of dividing the city.”
Moreover, sources close to Elkin told the Post
that the plan will fall under the purview of the new amendment, meaning that even after a new municipality is established in these areas, it would take the approval of 80 MKs to give it away to a foreign entity.
The lack of law enforcement and municipal presence in these neighborhoods makes it hard to estimate how many people are living in them. While the municipality holds that there are 51,340 residents there, other estimations are that there are some 100,000-150,000 people living in neighborhoods beyond the barrier.
Following the erection of the security barrier in 2004, the municipality and other service providers began to neglect these neighborhoods, and due to the lack of police presence, the areas have recorded a spike in crime, as well as a lack of infrastructure and basic city services such as garbage removal.
In some places, such as Shuafat, armed groups reportedly roam freely because the Israel Police rarely goes inside and the PA police are not allowed in.
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