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Israel advances bill ‘banning’ division of Jerusalem

A view of Jerusalem with Dome of the Rock.
Image of Jerusalem skyline with Dome of the Rock [File photo]

An Israeli ministerial panel has advanced a proposed law blocking negotiations on any partition of Jerusalem, local media reported Sunday.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill, allowing it to go to a vote in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously vetoed the progression of the bill.

The proposal would amend Israel’s Basic Law, requiring a three-quarter majority vote in the Knesset to hand any part of Jerusalem over to the Palestinians.

Palestinians insist that any state established as part of a two-state solution should include East Jerusalem as its capital but Israel claims Jerusalem as its “undivided, eternal capital” and hardliners object to the city being partitioned.

The law has been proposed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the hardline right-wing Jewish Home party.

Read: ‘The Jewish people will never give up any part of Israel’s land,’ insists minister

“Jerusalem was saved from the disaster of division twice, led by [former prime ministers] Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, who had a temporary majority in the Knesset,” Bennett recounted. “That’s over. The united Jerusalem bill…will prevent any possibility of dividing Jerusalem.”

In the current Knesset’s makeup, and without a peace deal on the table, it would be practically impossible to get three-fourths approval for dividing Jerusalem. However, things could change if a government reaches an agreement with the Palestinians.

In 1978, peace with Egypt was approved in the Knesset 84-19, and the 2005 Gaza disengagement passed with a 67-45 vote. Though the Oslo Accords also involved concessions, they were never brought to a vote in the Knesset.

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The bill does have a loophole, allowing for the division of Jerusalem in its current municipal borders, though the process would still be complicated. Israel could theoretically decide to break areas from Jerusalem and create a new municipality for them while keeping them under Israeli sovereignty, which requires a 61-MK majority to amend Basic Law: Jerusalem. Then, the government can negotiate giving them to the Palestinians, though it would still have to undergo a national vote, as the concession of any sovereign Israeli land would, under Basic Law: National Referendum.

The loophole was created after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked the proposal two weeks ago. Netanyahu cited the coalition agreement as the reason for his actions, but he is thought to have an eye on US President Donald Trump and his efforts to negotiate a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Promoting legislation that could tie Netanyahu’s hands in peace talks could alienate Trump.

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