Analysis: ‘United Jerusalem’ law paves way for tampering with Israeli capital’s municipal boundaries

The coalition passed a law requiring a two-thirds-majority vote before parts of Jerusalem can be given away in a peace agreement.  At the same time, the door is now open to tampering with the city’s municipal boundaries in order to ensure a large Jewish majority.

By Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

The ‘Unified Jerusalem’ law was passed in the Knesset late Monday night as an amendment to ‘Basic Law: Jerusalem.’ Driven by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and his Habayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party, the new law requires that any decision on the status of Jerusalem must receive an 80-Knesset-member (two-thirds) majority.

Bennett welcomed the law’s passage, tweeting, “We’ve assured Jerusalem’s unity. The law safeguards Jerusalem, whose status will not be changed unless an enormous 80-MK majority is reached. The Mount of Olives, the Old City, the Temple Mount and the City of David will remain ours forever. No political stunts will rip our capital apart.”

While it’s true that the new law now requires a two-thirds majority for any decision to be taken on Jerusalem’s status, the law itself can be changed with a bare majority of 61 MKs in favor. At the same time, along with the law’s passage, an article was changed in ‘Basic Law: Jerusalem’ removing the prohibition on making changes to the city’s municipal boundaries. In other words, areas currently part of the Jerusalem municipality may be removed from the city and placed “in a separate authority” with Israeli sovereignty still applying to them. That means the door has been opened to tampering with Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries in order to ensure a large Jewish majority in the Israeli capital.

Bennett continued tweeting, “Our capital city was saved twice from the catastrophe of partition efforts led by former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, when they held a fleeting Knesset majority. That is now over. The ‘Unified Jerusalem Law’ prevents any possibility of partition, strengthens our international standing and prevents future pressures on Israel.”

‘A new precedent’

Hebrew University Prof. Moshe Amirav was an aide to Barak at the Camp David talks when Israel made an offer to the Palestinians to divide Jerusalem. Amirav told World Israel News (WIN), “This is a new precedent. Many Knesset members are not aware that in June 1967, when Jerusalem was captured, a decision was taken to include all surrounding areas into the municipality. The pre-1967 Israeli side of Jerusalem was only about 30 square kilometers in size. We added over 100 square kilometers, including an assortment of Jordanian villages that had no connection to east Jerusalem on the Jordanian side. This was supposed to be a temporary solution. We knew then and know now that sooner or later Jerusalem must rid itself of these Arab neighborhoods. Of course this does not apply to the one square kilometer that includes the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in the Old City.”

According to Amirav, “In Camp David we agreed to give them areas that included about 300,000 Arab inhabitants. These areas are a trap for Israel because they can eventually reach a majority in the city. In Camp David I spoke directly to Yasser Arafat and asked him, ‘Why don’t you tell the Jerusalem Palestinians to vote in the municipal elections?’ He said he was willing, but the local Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem, like Faisal Husseini, were opposed. Fortunately for us it never happened.”

As Bennett and Habayit HaYehudi are celebrating their claim that the ‘United Jerusalem’ law safeguards the city from ever being divided in the future, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin is planning to use the new legislation to remove Arab neighborhoods that are beyond the security barrier from the municipality.

Elkin knows that the new law states that only a bare Knesset majority is needed to change the ‘Unified Jerusalem’ law, meaning that 61 votes could cancel the need for 80 votes. Elkin also understands that the same bare majority could cancel the article forbidding changes in Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. According to Elkin, on Monday it was not possible to gerrymander Jerusalem, but on Tuesday it became legal.

Elkin envisions the eventual manipulation of Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries to remove Arab neighborhoods that are currently inside the city but outside the security wall. These include places that few Israelis visit or have even heard of, such as Shuafat, Kafr Akab, Sawahra, Sheikh Sa’ad, and parts of  Walaja. The idea is to create a new Arab municipality beyond the barrier in order to protect the Jewish majority in the city.

‘A brave move by Minister Elkin’

Knesset member and former Jerusalem councilwoman Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) told WIN, “This will make it easier to remove Arab neighborhoods from Jerusalem’s municipal responsibility. I think Jerusalem is a city where we must live together. The idea of a wall running through a part of the city as it does today is not something we want to see. The bill is important because it delineates places that are not really part of Jerusalem. Its residents do not identify as Jerusalemites, and they don’t receive proper municipal services because they are not physically integrated into Jerusalem. There is something about Jerusalem that terrifies a lot of leaders to make any decisions. It was a brave move by Minister Elkin.”

Jerusalem Councilwoman Fleur Hassan-Nahoum (Yerushalmim, a Jerusalem municipal party) told WIN, “If we keep all of these Arab neighborhoods inside Jerusalem, then they must be given services just like other residents. It’s unworkable to keep those living beyond the wall inside the city. We can’t have it both ways. The Arab residents in the city could vote in higher numbers and then they would have council members fighting for their rights.”

If Elkin has his way, Jerusalem’s Jewish majority will increase, and some Arab residents will live in a still unnamed municipality outside Jerusalem’s city limits.