Bill to prevent East Jerusalem withdrawal cleared for final vote

Legislation requiring two-thirds of Knesset’s support for dividing city under peace deal will now head to plenum for second and third readings

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)

The Knesset’s Constitution, Justice and Law Committee on Tuesday green-lighted for its final votes a bill requiring the support of two-thirds of the Knesset to hand over any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians under a future peace deal.

Following Tuesday’s 9-7 committee vote, the bill was to move forward to its second and third plenum readings, where it was expected to be passed into law. No date has been set for the final votes.

As part of the revised bill passed on Tuesday, the Israeli government would also be able to remove the Shuafat refugee camp and Kafr Aqab from the control of the Jerusalem Municipality and transfer them to a yet-to-be established local council.

The two neighborhoods, both in Arab-majority East Jerusalem, lie on the eastern side of the security barrier yet are still part of the city, leading to complaints of neglect and a lack of public services by residents.

The effect of the legislation would be to reduce the capital’s Arab population. It  comes as the Knesset is seeking to advance a separate bill that would incorporate Jerusalem-area West Bank settlements into the city’s borders, in turn increasing the number of Jewish residents.

The draft legislation cleared its first reading in July, when 51 MKs voted in favor, and 41 against.

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.

Its 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.

Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli speaks during a Knesset session on July 26, 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.”

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

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.

In May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s holy sites was not up for negotiation and said the city will always be Israel’s capital.

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