Ministers approve bill aiming to take Jerusalem off the negotiating table

The amendment to Basic Law: Jerusalem states that giving up Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem would require approval by 80 MKs, three-fourths of the Knesset.

July 16, 2017 11:14
2 minute read.
Western Wall

The Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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Legislation to put a seemingly insurmountable obstacle before any Israeli leader seeking to divide Jerusalem in diplomatic negotiations can move forward after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved it on Sunday.

The amendment to Basic Law: Jerusalem pushed by Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett states that giving up Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem would require approval by 80 MKs, two-thirds of the Knesset.

Bennett said that “uniting around the united Jerusalem bill will strengthen us in the world and prevent future pressures on Israel.”

“Jerusalem was saved from the disaster of division twice, [with efforts to divide the city] led by [former prime ministers] Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, who had a temporary majority in the Knesset,” Bennett recounted. “That’s over. The united Jerusalem bill... will prevent any possibility of dividing Jerusalem.”

With the current Knesset’s makeup and without a peace deal on the table, it would be practically impossible to get two-thirds approval for dividing Jerusalem.

However, things could change if a government reaches an agreement with the Palestinians. In 1978, peace with Egypt was approved in the Knesset by 84 to 19, and the 2005 Gaza disengagement passed with a 67 to 45 vote.

Though the Oslo Accords also involved concessions, they were never brought to a vote in the Knesset.

Instead the Knesset voted on a motion of non-confidence in relation to the accords, and thus approved them by 61 votes in favor against 50 objecting.

The bill does have a loophole allowing for the division of Jerusalem in its current municipal borders, though the process would still be complicated.

Israel could theoretically decide to break areas from Jerusalem and create a new municipality for those areas while keeping them under Israeli sovereignty.

That would require a 61-MK majority to amend Basic Law: Jerusalem.

Then, the government could negotiate sovereignty over those areas with the Palestinians, though it would still have to undergo a national vote, as the concession of any sovereign Israeli land would come under Basic Law: National Referendum.

The loophole was created after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked the proposal two weeks ago. Netanyahu cited the coalition agreement as the reason for his actions, but he is thought to have an eye on US President Donald Trump and his efforts to negotiate a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Promoting legislation that could tie Netanyahu’s hands in peace talks could alienate Trump.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On came out against the minister’s decision, saying it was putting ideology before hope for a diplomatic agreement.

“This government sends messages to Trump that it is in favor of negotiating, but at the same time, it allows the Knesset to set up conditions meant to sabotage any future arrangement,” Gal-On said. “This bill contradicts constitutional common sense, since the ministers know that there can’t be a diplomatic agreement without dividing sovereignty over Jerusalem, and they only want to torpedo any chance of entering negotiations in the first place.”

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