Israel’s intelligence minister proposed on Monday to absorb four West Bank settlements and a settlement bloc into the Jerusalem municipality, while also removing around 100,000 Palestinians from the city’s census.
Yisrael Katz said residents of those settlements would be able to vote in Jerusalem municipal elections, but the settlements would not be under full Israeli sovereignty.
For most of the world, the status of Jerusalem is still to be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians, though Israel considers the city its undivided capital.
Some of the settlements are fairly deep in the West Bank, more than 10 kilometers (six miles) from Jerusalem and are currently home to some 130,000 Israelis.
“Those settlements, those towns — Ma’ale Adumim, the Gush Etzion bloc, Givat Ze’ev, Beitar Illit and Efrat — will become part of Jerusalem but without changing their status — without putting the Israeli sovereignty on those places,” Katz told reporters.
Monday’s proposal appeared to be a softened version of an earlier plan put forward by Katz, that would have seen the same settlements formally annexed.
Simultaneously, around 100,000 people living in Palestinian neighborhoods outside the security barrier surrounding the city would be removed from the city’s census, with a new municipality built for them, Katz said.
The move would make Jerusalem’s official demographic balance significantly more Jewish.
Most consider the West Bank settlements illegal under international law, as well as the formal annexation of land seized during war. Israel has maintained that the settlements are not illegal, saying that the land is disputed.
Israel has controlled the West Bank since capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War, but has never moved to annex any of the territory beyond extending sovereignty to East Jerusalem. It did later apply Israeli law to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria.
Most Israeli leaders maintain that the largest settlement blocs in the West Bank will become part of Israel in any future peace deal.
“I am a hawk, but a clever hawk, a humanitarian hawk,” Katz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, said.
He said the bill would be discussed this week by the cabinet, but did not as yet have the full support of Netanyahu.
The right-wing Jewish Home party has proposed unilaterally annexing Ma’ale Adumim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, into Israel, a move that would likely draw firm condemnation from the international community. Unlike Katz’s proposal, the Jewish Home would extend full Israeli sovereignty over Ma’ale Adumim.
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett has also called for Israel to annex 60% of the West Bank — the territories designated Area C by the Oslo Accords, which include the bulk of Israeli settlements — as have a number of Likud party members.
Katz is also pushing a plan to build a region-wide train network that he says could link Israel and the Palestinians to much of the Arab world.
Katz, who is also the minister of transportation, said Monday that Israel already is pushing forward with plans to extend an existing train line to the Jordanian border and into the West Bank. The projects would give Jordan and the Palestinians greater access to Haifa port. Katz showed a map of a hoped-for rail network stretching through Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the Gulf.
Israel does not have formal relations with Saudi Arabia, but Katz suggested the issue has been quietly raised through back channels. He says the new US administration is “very active” promoting regional “normalization.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.