Amid tensions, bill to stymie East Jerusalem pullout moves ahead
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Amid tensions, bill to stymie East Jerusalem pullout moves ahead

As Knesset closes up shop for the summer, proposal requiring two-thirds Knesset support to relinquish any portion of the city clears first reading

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

A picture taken on July 17, 2017, shows the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)
A picture taken on July 17, 2017, shows the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

Knesset lawmakers approved in its first reading a bill that would require a special two-thirds support of the Knesset to relinquish any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians under a future peace accord.

After hours of debates, and as the Knesset wrapped up its spring session Wednesday ahead of its three-month summer break, the bill proposed by Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli cleared the plenum with 51 MKs in favor, 41 opposed.

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.

“This bill was designed to protect the unity of Jerusalem in the face of delusional, messianic steps from the left side of the [political] map,” said Moaelem-Refaeli on Wednesday.

Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli speaks during a Knesset session on July 26, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli speaks during a Knesset session on July 26, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The bill prevents “the possibility of concessions in Jerusalem, even parts [of the city],” she said. “Jerusalem will not be on the negotiating table.”

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.”

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

The bill must still pass two more readings and at least another committee write-up in the Knesset to become law.

Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 8, 2017.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 8, 2017.( Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Protesting the proposed legislation, opposition leader Isaac Herzog accused the Jewish Home party and religious Zionists of violating Jewish law in ascending the Temple Mount.

“I ask you, Shuli, how can you ignore the statements of Rav Kook on the Temple Mount and all the generations from then until today?” said Herzog, referring to rabbinic bans on visiting the site of the two Jewish temples. “Where did this dybbuk [demon] that got into you come from?” he added, calling the mounting interest in the Temple Mount by some Orthodox worshipers an “obsession.”

“You ignore the Jewish law of great Torah scholars,” he said. “The Torah scholars were much smarter than you in understanding the sensitivity of this site, that you can’t play with it.”

The passage of the bill came amid tensions in Jerusalem over the Temple Mount. Following the July 14 terror attack at the holy site by Arab Israeli gunmen that killed two Israeli policemen, Israel closed the compound for two days and set up metal detectors around the site to bolster security. That move was fiercely protested by Palestinians, who have held daily demonstrations around the compound.

On Tuesday, Israel removed the metal detectors.

“Just as the occupier had its tail between its legs over the metal detectors, it will [do likewise] and end the occupation of Jerusalem,” said MK Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint (Arab) List of the bill. “You will see, there will yet be peace.”

The bill was advanced three weeks ago by Jewish Home lawmakers at the behest of Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Jewish Home party leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks in response to the UN vote against Israeli settlements, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, on December 25, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Jewish Home party leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks in response to the UN vote against Israeli settlements, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on December 25, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jewish Home leader Bennett has touted the bill as making the division of Jerusalem “impossible.”

A spokesman for the Jewish Home party said last month that the proposed legislation was intended to strengthen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position vis-a-vis the new administration of US President Donald Trump.

In May, hours before Trump arrived in Israel during his first major foray abroad as president, Netanyahu declared that Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s holy sites was not up for negotiation and said the city will always be Israel’s capital.

Trump has expressed his desire to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, which he has described as the “ultimate deal.”

In recent months the United Nations cultural body UNESCO has passed a series of resolutions that diminish or deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and refer to Israel as an occupying power.

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 was an issue that will need to be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Raoul Wootliff and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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