Israeli cabinet members on Sunday will vote on a bill seeking to annex large swaths of land into the Jerusalem municipality. The bill, coined the “Greater Jerusalem Bill,” will go to Knesset vote after what is expected to be an approval by the cabinet, however moving through the Knesset could prove difficult, as religious hardliners fear a change in the Jewish Israeli demographics of the city.
The controversial Likud-backed bill would bring at least 19 illegal Israeli settlements and outposts under Jerusalem jurisdiction and sever three Palestinian communities from the municipality. The five major illegal West Bank settlements to be annexed are listed as Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar Illit and Givat Ze’ev — the others are part of “settlement blocs” within the larger five.
The three Palestinian communities that would be kicked out of the Jerusalem municipality are Anata, Shufat refugee camp and Kufr Aqab.
The bill’s explanatory notes openly admit to the legislation’s goal as a tool in the Palestinian-Israeli demographic war in Jerusalem, which seek to Judaize the city.
The notes read: “In recent years, against the backdrop of demographic, cultural and political developments, Jerusalem’s status as the most important city in Israel has been weakened, and the city is being abandoned by its more affluent population which is moving to the coastal cities. The proposed law will enable changing this trend, restoring Jerusalem’s status as a symbol and the heart of the Jewish people.”
The bill is expected to pass among Israel’s cabinet vote, with full support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but getting through the Knesset could prove challenging, as there is a separate internal demographic war at play among Israelis.
While removing the Palestinian communities from the Jerusalem municipality is in the interest of Israel’s greater plan for a Judaized Jerusalem, Member of the Knesset Aida Touma-Suleiman told Mondoweiss that the bill may not pass because Ultra Orthodox Jerusalemites are worried bringing the settlements under the Jerusalem municipality could shift the power during elections, giving settlers with different lifestyles and religious beliefs a larger voice in Jerusalem’s voting booths.
“It would change the balance among Jews themselves inside Jerusalem, they don’t want to lose the chance of having an Ultra Orthodox mayor, so it may very well fail to pass,” the Arab List MK explained.
According to the Times of Israel, The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party “threatened to torpedo” the bill this week because of that very reason. Israel’s Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni, both part of the UTJ party, have vocally gone against the bill.
Bringing in settlements under Jerusalem’s municipality further legitimizes the settlements in Israeli society, challenging the reality that all Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law.
In addition, BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights said in a statement that if the bill were to pass, and the three Palestinian communities currently part of the Jerusalem municipalities were cut out of the district, the act would in turn “facilitate the forcible transfer of residents,” which is a war crime under international law.
BADIL added that the bill moves Israel “one step further into the annexation of the West Bank,” making the internationally-backed two-state solution a little more impossible.
The Israel Policy Forum, a U.S.-based pro-Israel lobbying group in support of a two-state solution, said the bill would “severely damage prospects for a two-state solution, communicate bad faith toward the Palestinians, and cast doubts on Israel’s commitment to a negotiated permanent status agreement.”
“The disposition of Jerusalem is the thorniest of the final status issues between Israel and the Palestinians. Adding entities to the city that are not part of Jerusalem by any conceivable stretch of the imagination will only greatly exacerbate this issue going forward, and such moves are designed to do little but create facts on the ground that cut off access to the city for West Bank Palestinians,” the group said in a statement. “The Israeli cabinet should unequivocally reject this ludicrous and blatant effort to blur the line between Israel and the West Bank and not complicate the status of Jerusalem any further.”
Meanwhile the U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has refused to make a comment against or in support of the bill.
During a press conference on Thursday, when pressed on the subject, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said, “my understanding is that the piece of legislation is in the early stages of development. Some of these would be internal matters that I wouldn’t want to comment on. I know that it has to go through several steps before it would even become law,” without commenting further.
Palestinian politicians and activists have strongly denounced the bill.
PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi called on the international community to “hold Israel accountable,” saying the failure of governments around the world to do so “has enabled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government to intensify their efforts to superimpose ‘Greater Israel’ on all of historic Palestine.”
“Undoubtedly, Israel is in the business of prolonging the military occupation and not ending it, legalizing the presence of extremist Jewish settlers on Palestinian soil, and completing the total isolation and annexation of Palestinian Jerusalem. Such efforts represent the end of the two-state solution,” Ashrawi said.
Ashrawi also called on the international community to sanction Israel for its failure to adhere to international law, and to help in the case against Israel at the ICC.
“Rather than just paying lip service to the two-state solution and denouncing settlement activity, it is incumbent upon each member of the international community to take serious and concrete action and initiate strict sanctions against Israel which should also be held to account by the ICC for its continued war crimes,” she said.