The United States indicated that it could be opposed to the greater Jerusalem bill that the Israeli Legislative Committee is expected to vote on Sunday. A number of politicians from parties in the coalition, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Kulanu, have also spoken out against the legislation.The bill, which is authored by MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), was originally intended to annex to Israel 19 West Bank settlements surrounding Jerusalem by making them part of the capital city.The bill’s language has now been toned down so that the legislation would annex the Jewish communities to Jerusalem, but not to sovereign Israel. At its most basic level, the bill would shore up the Jewish vote in the city by giving 150,000 settlers the right to vote in municipal elections. The 19 settlements would simultaneously maintain their own independent governing bodies by becoming sub-municipalities of Jerusalem. Opponents of the legislation have argued that even though the bill’s objective now focuses on Jerusalem’s voting demographics, it is still tantamount to annexation. “My understanding is that that piece of legislation is in the early stages of development,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday night. She added that the US did not want to comment on the internal debate around the legislation.
“I know that it has to go through several steps before it would even become law,” Nauert said.But as a general comment, she said, “We continue to encourage both sides to take appropriate actions to ease tensions and build an environment that would support concluding a conflict-ending peace agreement.”Shas and United Torah Judaism has said they plan to oppose the legislation. The two parties fears the bill could weaken the ultra-Orthodox voting demographic in Jerusalem even though the legislation would give voting rights in the capital to the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit, which has a population of 51,636.United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev said, “This law has deals with sensitive diplomatic issues and has immediate and future municipal repercussions. We have to be very wary of it and not approve it so quickly.”MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) charged that politicians who didn't live in Jerusalem were cynically turning it into a political tool. "This bill might look good on paper, but it's bad in reality,” Azaria said.“Who wants to live in a city where people from the outside can vote for your mayor?” she asked, adding that there are better ways to strengthen the city. Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to support the bill, which has the backing of the Likud and Bayit Yehudi parties.The bill includes the settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Beitar Illit, Efrat and the communities that fall under the auspices of the Gush Etzion Regional Council.Separately, the bill also takes the three Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem outside the security barrier – Kafr Akab, Shuafat and Anata – and makes them sub-municipalities of the city. The three neighborhoods constitute around 100,000 people.
US State Department Press Briefing featuring a question on Jerusalem annexation - October 26, 2017. (YouTube/U.S. Department of State)