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
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.