Coalition members join opposition on Jerusalem bill

Key bill would require a 2 to 1 majority on any decision to divide the capital; coalition also totters on bill that would finance repairs of Kassam damage from PA taxes.

Jerusalem old city 88 (photo credit: )
Jerusalem old city 88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition was unable to exercise its majority in the Knesset on Wednesday, allowing the opposition to pass several key bills against the government's wishes. In the morning, the Knesset plenum passed a preliminary vote on a bill that would require a two-thirds Knesset majority in order to divide Jerusalem in the context of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The bill, which was presented by Likud faction whip Gideon Sa'ar, is part of efforts by the Likud Party to unite right-wing lawmakers against the coalition. Of the 54 MKs who voted in favor of the bill, more than one-third came from coalition parties, including ministers Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu), Ariel Attias (Shas) and Rafi Eitan (Gil Pensioners Party). "The vote on this bill proves that when it comes to Jerusalem, it is not an issue of coalition or opposition. The Knesset has spoken, and now the prime minister knows where he stands," said opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who spoke at an event in the City of David in honor of his newly formed "Forum for a United Jerusalem." "I call on all the parties who now know that this government is not their right home to leave the coalition before it is too late," he said. The Likud Party has used the issue of Jerusalem to try and sway Shas and Israel Beiteinu to leave the government. MKs from those parties joined Netanyahu at the City of David, telling the hundreds of Likud supporters gathered that they would leave the coalition if Olmert raised the issue of Jerusalem during the upcoming Annapolis peace summit. "The prime minister knows where we stand. The moment the line is crossed, we can assure you that we will no longer be in the government," said MK Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas). Likud officials emphasized that Shas and Israel Beiteinu's support of Sa'ar's Jerusalem bill guaranteed that even if Olmert reached an agreement with the Palestinians regarding Jerusalem, he would not be able to pass it in the Knesset. The bill proposes changing the Basic Law: Jerusalem to demand that if a prime minister wants to make any territorial concessions to the city, he would need to garner the support of 80 MKs - an impossible feat if Netanyahu's forum remains in place. Also in the Knesset Wednesday, MKs passed a preliminary reading on a bill that would finance the repairs of all Kassam-related damages from tax funds that Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority. The bill, which was drafted by MKs Yisrael Hasson (Israel Beiteinu) and Limor Livnat (Likud), stipulates that the costs for securing residential housing, shelters and bus stations in Gaza periphery settlements come from the PA tax money. The bill passed with 37 MKs in favor and 23 against, with several coalition MKs among those voting in favor. "I am happy the MKs' common sense was stronger than the government's opposition," Hasson said after the vote. "It is important that [those attending the] Annapolis [peace conference] also see the plight of the children of Sderot. It's time for relevant officials to take responsibility for their actions." Coalition MKs expressed distress at the results of Wednesday's votes. "If the coalition continues to act in this way, then it will only be a matter of time before it falls apart," said minister Eitan Cabel (Labor).