Why is Israel struggling to legislate for a united Jerusalem?

A mostly right-wing government has been trying to pass bills to keep the capital united, but coalition debates are getting in the way.

AN AERIAL view of the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN AERIAL view of the Old City of Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Every party in the coalition says it wants a united Jerusalem to remain the capital of Israel, yet bills to that effect have been having trouble getting passed.
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz backed a new “Greater Jerusalem” bill submitted Monday that would add Gush Etzion, Efrat, Betar Illit, Givat Ze’ev and Ma’aleh Adumim – home to about 150,000 Israelis – to Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, creating a greater metropolitan area and, in effect, annexing those settlements. Arab villages in the area that lie outside the separation barrier with about 100,000 residents would become an independent municipality within Greater Jerusalem.
Katz said: “Adding Greater Jerusalem towns to Jerusalem will strengthen the status of the city as the eternal, united and complete capital of Israel, and will send a clear message to anyone trying to undermine the connection of the Jewish People to Jerusalem, or that Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish People.”
The proposal comes as the coalition debates an initiative from Education Minister Naftali Bennett to amend the Basic Law: Jerusalem, such that it would require a three-fourths majority of the Knesset to give up sovereignty over any part of the capital.
If the bills were to pass in tandem, Katz’s proposal would greatly increase the area that could only be relinquished – per Bennett’s proposal – by a threefourths vote.
However, the Bayit Yehudi-proposed bill is stuck in deliberations between coalition parties for reasons that also apply to Katz’s proposal, which was submitted by Likud MK Yoav Kisch.
Bennett’s bill was rushed to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of his Bayit Yehudi Party. Kisch, who is chairman of the Knesset House Committee, waived the mandatory sixweek waiting period for the Greater Jerusalem bill.
But the Bennett proposal was blocked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Sunday, before it even went to a ministerial vote.
The prime minister 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, whose special envoy Jason Greenblatt is expected to arrive in Israel on Tuesday.
Publicly, however, Netanyahu cited the coalition agreement, which says that amendments to Basic Laws, which are meant to form an eventual constitution, may only be promoted by consensus. Netanyahu also pointed out that there is a Jerusalem Minister, Ze’ev Elkin, and legislation relating to the capital ought to go through him. Bayit Yehudi accused Netanyahu of sacrificing Jerusalem for the sake of political gain.
Elkin and Bennett agreed to form a joint committee to work on the bill, which they changed so that the three-fourths vote would not apply to Arab villages on the outskirts of the city – those which Katz proposed as a new municipality.
The new version of the Bennett Jerusalem bill was supposed to go to a vote on Sunday, but it was postponed yet again at the request of United Torah Judaism.
Katz and Kisch, however, are confident that their Jerusalem bill won’t go through the same tribulations.
“There’s no political battle here, because it’s within the Likud, and promoting the policies of the Likud,” Kisch’s spokesman said, “and Yisrael [Katz] is in touch with all the relevant factors.”
The proposal shouldn’t face any problems from Bennett either, who said in a Bayit Yehudi faction meeting that he would support it.
The Katz-Kisch “Greater Jerusalem” bill is expected to go to a vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.