Pending Jerusalem Legislative Initiatives: Strategic Shifts in Current Status & Potential Political Future of Jerusalem

There are currently three highly significant legislative initiatives that are simultaneously being advanced in the Knesset related to Jerusalem. Each of these would have a far-reaching impact on the current status of Jerusalem and its environs in the West Bank, the plight of East Jerusalem Palestinians under Israeli occupation and the prospects for any future agreement regarding permanent status Jerusalem.

It remains unclear if these initiatives will be approved in one major overhaul of the Jerusalem Basic Law or in separate pieces of legislation. What IS clear is that each of these initiatives enjoy the support of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and there is a very clear danger that all three will be enacted at the end of the Knesset’s summer recess in October.

If enacted, these initiatives will represent a further flagrant violation of international law and usher in the most significant and detrimental changes to the status of Jerusalem since the Israeli annexation in 1967.

Initiative #1: A “Super-Majority” required for any future agreement on Jerusalem.
The first piece of legislation, on which we reported in our previous edition, is an amendment of Jerusalem Basic Law that would require a special majority of 80 votes (out of 120) for the transfer of sovereignty of any part of Jerusalem to a foreign entity. Initially being advanced by the Jewish Home Party, the initiative now enjoys the support of almost all of the coalition, most prominently that of Netanyahu himself. The amendment passed a Knesset first reading on July 26 (see text of the proposed law here in Hebrew). A simple majority of 61 will be required to change the law. The implications of this legislation are the following:

  • If passed into law, this initiative would mean that a future Knesset majority, even one larger than the majority currently backing the Israeli government, would not have the authority to implement a permanent status agreement that would entail even the most modest compromise on Jerusalem. The current Knesset would be giving future Knesset minorities a virtual veto power over Knesset majorities in approving what likely will be the sine qua non of any future agreement.
  • There is a subtext accompanying the 80-vote majority required by the amendment, an unarticulated dog-whistle heard by all: this special majority will neutralize the impact of those members of the Knesset representing Palestinian citizens of Israel. Under this amendment, the future status of Jerusalem will to all intents and purposes be determined exclusively by the votes of Jewish members of the Knesset.
  • Notably, Palestinians of East Jerusalem, who will be the most immediately and profoundly affected by this legislation, do not have a voice in the current political process, since they are not represented in the Knesset. They are more disempowered than ever.
  • In June 1967, Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem was carried out by means of administrative fiat, and never brought before the Knesset. Fifty years later, the amendment is an effort to use legislation to determine that this annexation – the legitimacy of which has not been recognized by any country on the planet – cannot be reversed, even by a simple majority vote in the Knesset.

Initiative #2: The “Greater Jerusalem” initiative.
In parallel to the effort to amend the Jerusalem Basic Law, MK and Minister of Transportation and of Intelligence Yisrael Katz (Likud) is advancing, together with Likud MK Yoav Kisch, the “Greater Jerusalem law,” aimed at altering the boundaries of the Jerusalem Municipality so as to include major West Bank  settlements located in the environs of Jerusalem (very broadly defined). Specifically:

  • The bill would create a Greater Jerusalem municipality that includes the settlement of Maale Adumim to the east, Givat Ze’ev to the north, and the Gush Etzion settlements of Efrat and Beitar Illit to the south.
  • According to the bill, the inhabitants of these settlements would become residents of Jerusalem and be able to vote in and be candidates for Jerusalem municipal elections.
  • The bill would not formally annex those settlements to Israel, nor would it dismantle the regional council under which authority these settlements are currently located. Rather, it will turn them into satellite towns belonging to the Greater Jerusalem metropolitan area.
  • In doing so, this legislation implies that these settlements will be annexed, de facto, to Israel, and that the Green Line will be blurred, as the municipal area of Israel’s eternal, undivided capital is stretched deep into the West Bank in all directions.
  • This is not the first time that Netanyahu has attempted to create a Greater Jerusalem Umbrella Municipality. In June 1998, during his first tenure as Prime Minister, Netanyahu’s government approved such a scheme. Faced with blistering international opposition, Netanyahu was compelled to abandon the scheme. In the ensuing years he never dared to revive the scheme – until now.

Initiative #3: The “East Jerusalem Localities” Initiative.
The third prong of these initiatives seeks to excise more than 100,000 Palestinian East Jerusalemites from the Jerusalem Municipality. Cut off from the Jerusalem Municipality, the areas in question would be relegated to the status of “autonomous” local or regional localities. What this entails is the following:

  • These initiatives would create separate municipal or regional “localities” in places like Kafr Aqb, the Shuafat Refugee, Ras Hamis etc.
  • The gerrymandering of the separation barrier in and around Jerusalem has already created a situation in which more than 100,000 Palestinians living in such areas reside technically within the city’s municipal boundaries but are physically cut off from the city by the barrier.
  • While the Palestinian sector of Jerusalem – 37% of the city’s population – has always received only a fraction of the services provided to Israeli Jerusalem, in these areas beyond the barrier Israel is incapable of (and has zero interest in) providing any services at all. The situation is so stark that it is an embarrassment that even official Israel cannot ignore. The solution? Get rid of them by creating a reality whereby they will no longer be the responsibility of the Jerusalem Municipality.
  • On paper – the residents would “run their own lives.” The reality would be quite different. This would create municipal or regional councils in which NONE of the residents would have political rights: virtually none have the right to vote for the Knesset, or are citizens of the country in which they live.
  • These areas will be geographically distinct, have no resources, no sources of revenue, no employment opportunities. They will depend entirely on “allotments” from the Government of Israel – a government in which the residents in no way participate –  totally at the mercy of authorities who are invariably apathetic or hostile to the Palestinians of East Jerusalem.
  • The situation in Kafr Aqb and the Shuafat Refugee Camp has compelled Israel to confront the unsustainability of Israeli rule over East Jerusalem; rather than moving to end this rule, these initiatives seek to double down on occupation. The creation of these new “localities” is one of the few things that could make the plight of Palestinian East Jerusalemites worse: geographically isolated, politically disempowered and economically moribund, they will bear chilling resemblance to Bantustans.

As in the case of the “super-majority” initiative, PM Netanyahu has declared that he is backing the proposed legislation and instructed the initiators of the law to submit it to the Knesset at the opening of the winter session.

The Cumulative Impact of These 3 Legislative Initiatives.
Cumulatively, these three initiatives constitute an effort to implement the most radical changes in the status of East Jerusalem since the Israeli annexation in June 1967, and threaten to profoundly detrimental impacts on the prospects of a future political agreement. Indeed, it is difficult to overestimate their significance. Together they would create a radically new geopolitical reality in Jerusalem and its environs, one which will be very difficult to reverse:

  • The borders of Municipal Jerusalem will be artificially gerrymandered so as to include Israeli settlers living deep within the West Bank, while excluding hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who now are considered (and consider themselves) part of Jerusalem. This would enhance and perpetuate the fiction of an undivided capital with a clear Israeli majority.
  • By erasing the Green Line through the incorporation of West Bank residents into Municipal Jerusalem, this move would in many ways constitute the de facto annexation of Greater Jerusalem and an official abrogation of any commitment to a permanent status agreement based on the 1967 lines – a commitment that is one of the foundations of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts since Oslo.
  • Coupled with the other Israeli policies – settlement expansion, displacement and demolitions, infrastructure construction – these policies would be another significant step in creating an Israeli-imposed border between a unilaterally-expanded Israel and a fragmented Palestine – one which will make the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible.
  • The new geopolitical realities of Greater Jerusalem will entail one geographical area in the two national collectives permanently and separately are vested with different rights and entitlements, with different laws applied differently – and all in blatant violation of international law.  No longer paying even lip-service to the temporary nature of occupation, this will create a permanent reality with characteristics highly reminiscent of Apartheid or some variation thereof.
  • The mandated “supermajority” will assure that this reality will not be easily reversed, nor its underlying aberrations redressed by means of a permanent status agreement.