PM delays vote on bill annexing Greater Jerusalem after US frowns on it

The bill in question seeks to legalize the annexation of 19 settlements to the capital and has sparked a heated debate in the government.

A VIEW of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot (foreground) and Ramat Shlomo (background). (photo credit: REUTERS)
A VIEW of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot (foreground) and Ramat Shlomo (background).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed on Saturday an initial vote on the Greater Jerusalem bill, after some of his coalition partners opposed it and the US appeared to frown on it.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs had intended to vote Sunday on the bill, which would shore up the Jewish vote in Jerusalem by annexing 19 settlements to the capital.
Sources said the legislation needed “diplomatic preparation and has therefore been rejected for the moment.”
Israeli politicians talk about possible annexation of West Bank settlement of Ma"aleh Adumim, October 3, 2017. (Tovah Lazaroff)
News of the delay came two days after Washington publicly indicated that it could be opposed to the bill.
A number of coalition politicians have also spoken out against the legislation.
Its passage had earlier appeared certain, because Netanyahu pledged earlier this month to support it. He has been under pressure to approve the legislation from members of his own party and Bayit Yehudi.
The bill, authored by MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), was originally intended to annex 19 settlements to Jerusalem. The draft 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 give 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 argue that even though it now focuses more narrowly on Jerusalem’s voting demographics, it is still tantamount to annexation.
“My understanding is that piece of legislation is in the early stages of development,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday.
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 have said they plan to oppose the legislation.
The two parties fear the bill could weaken the ultra-Orthodox voting demographic in Jerusalem, even though it would give voting rights in the capital to the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Betar Illit, which has more than 51,000 residents.
MK Uri Maklev (UTJ) said the bill deals with sensitive diplomatic issues and would have immediate and future municipal repercussions.
“We have to be very wary of it and not approve it so quickly,” he said last week.
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,” she said. “Who wants to live in a city where people from the outside can vote for your mayor?” She said there were better ways to strengthen the city.
The legislation would apply to the settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Betar Illit, Efrat and the communities that fall under the auspices of the Gush Etzion Regional Council.
Separately, it would takes the three Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem outside the security barrier – Kafr Akab, Shuafat and Anata – and makes them sub-municipalities of the city.
Together, the three neighborhoods are home to around 100,000 people.