Is­rael’s fu­ture plans for Jerusalem are ‘vir­tu­ally un­prece­dented’

Ne­tanyahu has no in­ten­tions of al­low­ing a Pales­tinian state and is work­ing to en­sure a par­ti­tion be­tween oc­cu­pied East Jerusalem and the West Bank

Daily Messenger - - National -

Is­rael’s ob­ses­sion with main­tain­ing a Jewish de­mo­graphic ma­jor­ity in oc­cu­pied Jerusalem — as in the rest of Is­rael and Pales­tine — has cul­mi­nated in re­cent weeks to a Knes­set Bill that, if passed, would have deeply al­tered the de­mo­graphic na­ture of the city.

How­ever, in the fi­nal hours be­fore the late Oc­to­ber 29 vote in the Knes­set’s Min­is­te­rial Com­mit­tee for Leg­is­la­tion, Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu in­ter­vened, halt­ing the im­mi­nent pass­ing of the Bill. What be­came known as the ‘Greater Jerusalem law’ has been gath­er­ing mo­men­tum for months. Weeks be­fore the sched­uled vote, Ne­tanyahu him­self joined the fer­vent cho­rus of sup­port.

A na­tional poll pub­lished on Novem­ber 3 re­vealed that 72 per cent of Israeli Jews wanted Is­rael to main­tain con­trol over Mus­lim holy sites in oc­cu­pied Jerusalem, while 58 per cent sup­ported the ini­tia­tive to ex­pand the Jerusalem mu­nic­i­pal bound­aries and merge ma­jor il­le­gal Jewish colonies un­der one mu­nic­i­pal­ity. The Bill pro­posed the ex­pan­sion of the mu­nic­i­pal bound­aries of oc­cu­pied Jerusalem to in­clude­ma­jor il­le­gal Jewish colonies in the West Bank, in­clud­ing Ma’ale­hA­du­mim, Gi­vat Ze’ev, Be­tar Il­lit and Efrat.

The ob­jec­tive be­hind this ef­fort is to in­crease the Jewish pop­u­la­tion of oc­cu­pied Jerusalem by 150,000. The law would have fur­ther de­moted the sta­tus of 100,000 Pales­tini­ans who would have found them­selves in a po­lit­i­cal grey area, ex­cluded from the oc­cu­pied Jerusalem mu­nic­i­pal­ity and gov­erned un­der a new mu­nic­i­pal struc­ture. East Jerusalem was il­le­gally oc­cu­pied by Is­rael in 1967 and an­nexed by the Israeli Knes­set in 1981, a move that has won no in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion and has no le­gal foun­da­tion.

Since then, 200,000 Jewish colonists have been moved or re­lo­cated to the oc­cu­pied city, in vi­o­la­tion of the Fourth Geneva Con­ven­tion. De­spite the vote not tak­ing place, the cam­paign to drive Pales­tini­ans out of oc­cu­pied Jerusalem is still be­ing ac­tively pur­sued.

Two main rea­sons seem to have led to the post­pon­ing of the vote. First, the ul­tra-Ortho­dox United To­rah Ju­daism Party, which has a strong con­stituency in the city’s elec­tions re­jected and threat­ened to ‘tor­pedo’ the Bill. Ex­pand­ing the bor­ders of oc­cu­pied Jerusalem will bring about a mas­sive num­ber of new Jewish vot­ers, who could jeop­ar­dize the ul­tra-Ortho­dox party’s chances of re­claim­ing the city’s most cov­eted po­si­tion, the seat of the mayor.

The se­cond rea­son is re­port­edly re­lated to Amer­i­can pres­sure.

United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had fre­quently spo­ken of a re­gional peace and an ‘ul­ti­mate deal’ that would al­low Is­rael to in­te­grate into the larger Arab eco­nomic land­scape with­out mak­ing many con­ces­sions to Pales­tini­ans. For Is­rael, this has been an ideal sce­nario. While Ne­tanyahu is keen on pleas­ing his rightwing con­stituency in Is­rael, he is also de­ter­mined not to up­set the ‘spe­cial re­la­tion­ship’he at­tained with the US since Trump’s ad­vent to power.

Trump, on the other hand, has laboured to re­as­sure Ne­tanyahu of his en­dur­ing loy­alty. His last visit to Is­rael was a ma­jor step in that di­rec­tion, with a US com­mit­ment to Is­rael’s se­cu­rity and fu­ture made abun­dantly clear. More­over, the joint US-Is­rael push against the United Na­tions and its smaller in­sti­tu­tions like Unesco and United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Coun­cil, led by US Am­bas­sador to the UN, Nikki Ha­ley, seeks to tor­pedo fu­ture in­ter­na­tional ini­tia­tives that are crit­i­cal of Is­rael’s mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tine.

But an out­right de­ci­sion to once more al­ter the sta­tus of Jerusalem, an­nex large parts of the oc­cu­pied West Bank and fur­ther eth­ni­cally cleanse tens of thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans would have ig­nited the kind of back­lash that could likely bring an end to Trump’s Mid­dle East pol­i­tick­ing, and com­pli­cate his re­la­tions with var­i­ous Arab gov­ern­ments.

The ‘Greater Jerusalem law’ would have done just that. The fact that it has been post­poned is linked to tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vres, not a fun­da­men­tal shift of strat­egy.

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