The Netanyahu government’s longstanding approach to upheaval in East Jerusalem has been, and remains, punitive: to look for ways to punish Palestinian residents and cow them into submission, until they stop rising up against the fact that they live as a disenfranchised minority under the boot of Israeli occupation, and instead act appropriately grateful for Israel’s beneficence in permitting them to continue to reside in the city at all.
Consistent with this approach, in late October Netanyahu raised the possibility of stripping large numbers of Palestinians of their Jerusalem residency status. Specifically, he raised an idea (that has been raised before) of taking away the Jerusalem IDs of Palestinians who live in areas that have been left on the West Bank side of Israel’s separation barrier, numbering about 80,000. It should be noted that Israel has for years quietly implemented policies designed to deprive Palestinians of their residency rights in Jerusalem (like taking away the Jerusalem IDs of Palestinians who spend more than a certain amount of time abroad, or who have a second passport, or who Israel claims have made their “center of life” outside of the city). The difference in this case is that the policy would be out in the open and without even the pretense of any purpose other than to rid Jerusalem of its Palestinian residents.
Netanyahu’s suggestion This suggestion provoked concern and consternation among Palestinians. It provoked a warning from the United States, with a White House spokesman saying that such a plan “would obviously be of some concern to us” and reiterating “the “importance of all sides avoiding provocative actions and rhetoric.” It was denounced by the Israeli left as collective punishment and anti-democratic, and called out as illegal by Israeli experts. It likewise sparked anger on the Jewish right, which accused Netanyahu of planning to “divide” Jerusalem. One headline captured the story perfectly: Right and Left agree: Residency revocation from east Jerusalemites would be 'catastrophic'.
At the same time, a poll found that 58% of Israelis supported the idea of taking away residency rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem – a startling statistic, but one that is balanced out by another finding of that same poll: 56% supported transferring Arab majority neighborhoods of the capital to the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). And ironically, while all of this discussion was going on, an Israeli court ruled that the Jerusalem Municipality has improperly neglected the Palestinian neighborhood of Kafr Aqab (located outside the barrier) for years, as city and national officials blamed each other, and the security barrier, for the problem.
The concerns of the East Jerusalem Palestinians are well founded. The current Government consistently suspended or abrogated Palestinian freedoms with little restraint, and would likely have no compunctions about revoking the residency rights of tens of thousands of Palestinians. That said, such a move would be so complicated that it still seems to be a remote prospect. In 1980, Israel enacted an amendment to The Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, whereby any change in the borders of the city or the manner in which Israeli law is applied will require a new Basic Law enjoying the support of an absolute majority of the members of Knesset (that is, 61 votes in favor). Revoking the status of East Jerusalem residents would likely require such an amendment. Generating that kind of support I the Knesset appears to be highly unlikely.