Aiding Trump, PM said to delay vote on blocking future Jerusalem withdrawal
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Aiding Trump, PM said to delay vote on blocking future Jerusalem withdrawal

Netanyahu reportedly shelves, until after Mike Pence's visit next week, legislation that would make it harder to divide capital

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. left, and US President Donald Trump during a joint press statements at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, on May 22, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. left, and US President Donald Trump during a joint press statements at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, on May 22, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

In a bid to ease pressure on the US administration following President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly delayed the final votes, originally slated for this week, on a bill that would make it harder to hand over any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians under a future peace deal.

Last month the Knesset’s Constitution, Justice and Law Committee green-lighted for its second and third readings a proposal requiring the support of two-thirds of the Knesset to cede any part of Jerusalem in peace negotiations. The bill was expected to pass in the plenum.

But Netanyahu has now instructed his Likud lawmakers to remove the vote from this week’s schedule and push it off until after US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Israel later this month, Hadashot TV news reported Saturday night.

Pence will visit Israel from December 17 to 19. When announcing the trip in October, the White House said Pence would hold meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas amid US efforts to relaunch peace talks.

US President Donald Trump holds up a signed memorandum recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as US Vice President looks on, at the White House, on December 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

In a Wednesday address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality. The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

Trump spoke about  Pence’s visit in his speech, with his vice president at his side, noting, “Vice President Pence will travel to the region in the coming days to reaffirm our commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East to defeat radicalism that threatens the hopes and dreams of future generations.”

Chairman of the Palestinian football (soccer) association Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Al-Ram between Jerusalem and Ramallah on October 29, 2017. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

But following the announcement, Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official, said that Pence was “unwanted in Palestine.” Abbas’s spokesman appeared to confirm that a meeting was no longer in the cards.

Pushing off the bill is seen as an effort by Netanyahu to avoid further Palestinian ill-feeling toward Pence in the lead-up to his visit, the Hadashot report said.

The bill, an amendment to the Basic Law on Jerusalem, would make it harder for any government to divide the city by requiring 80 of the 120 MKs to support giving up any part of Jerusalem to the sovereignty of a foreign power.

With no provision in the Basic Law specifying how it can be amended, it currently can be overturned with a simple majority.

The new proposal’s main backer, Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, has said the bill is designed to prevent portions of Jerusalem being turned over to the Palestinians under a peace agreement.

Israeli Border Police stand guard during a protest by Palestinians at Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, following US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on December 7, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Currently, the Jerusalem Law, passed in 1980 and amended in 2000, states, “No authority that is stipulated in the law of the State of Israel or of the Jerusalem Municipality may be transferred either permanently or for an allotted period of time to a foreign body, whether political, governmental or to any other similar type of foreign body.”

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, but the move has not been recognized internationally, and most countries refuse to recognize any part of the city as Israel’s capital, saying it is an issue that will need to be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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