Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced Thursday he would present a bill to redraw the lines of the Jerusalem municipality to include a number of West Bank settlements in a single “Greater Jerusalem” polity.
The settlements to be amalgamated into Jerusalem under the bill include the city of Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, the Gush Etzion bloc, and Beitar Illit, containing in total a population of over 150,000 Israelis.
“This week we will celebrate ‘Jerusalem Day’ to mark 47 years of the unification of the city,” Katz (Likud) wrote in a Facebook statement. “This is the time to advance an initiative that will strengthen Jerusalem, expand its borders, and preserve its Jewish national character.”
The bill would base its administrative plans on existing regions, such as Greater London and Greater Paris, and would create a unified municipality, while maintaining each region’s relative autonomy, he said.
Katz’s proposed legislation could constitute an alternative, or a step toward, annexation of the areas into Israeli territory — a move that has been repeatedly advocated by Economics Minister Naftali Bennett.
Most recently, the head of the right-wing Jewish Home party on April 27 appealed to the government to annex 60% of the West Bank — the territories designated Area C by the Oslo Accords, which include the bulk of Israeli settlements — following the suspension of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“I know it is not as sexy as the perfect two-state solution, but this is realistic,” Bennett said.
Earlier that day, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) called on the Israeli government “to start preparing for the annexation of Area C.”
Wherever “there is a Jewish population [in the West Bank] that should remain in place; we can start to prepare to annex [that area] if there is no Palestinian partner and the situation seems unlikely to change,” Erdan said.
In his announcement of the “Greater Jerusalem” bill, Katz made no mention of the substantial Palestinian population in the areas to be annexed, but Bennett, in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, wrote that the areas to be annexed under his plan contain some 70,000 Palestinians, who would be offered Israeli citizenship.
The most recent UN estimate, in March, put the figure for all of Area C at nearly 300,000 Palestinians, including 74,000 in East Jerusalem and 67,000 in the Hebron area.