Netanyahu and Rival Bennett Compromise Over Bill on Dividing Jerusalem

Ministers green light a bill that requires a super majority concede sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, but only a simple majority would be needed to give up land by redrawing Jerusalem’s borders

The Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is seen in Jerusalem's Old City, July 15, 2017.
The Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is seen in Jerusalem's Old City, July 15, 2017. Mahmoud Illean/AP

The governing coalition on Sunday agreed on a compromise regarding legislation that could divide Jerusalem, giving a political victory to both right-wing leader Naftali Bennett and Israelis who hope to divide the city as part of peace agreement with the Palestinians.

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation unanimously supported legislation that would require a super majority - 80 of the 120 Knesset members — to concede sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem. The committee backed this amendment to the Basic Law on Jerusalem.

The amendment, sponsored by Education Minister Bennett, is intended to prevent the use of a referendum to decide on territorial concessions in the capital. It would place the decision solely in the hands of lawmakers.

But the amendment also provides a second stipulation: Only 61 MKs would be needed to redraw Jerusalem’s municipal borders. In such a development, land left out of Jerusalem could be exchanged in a peace agreement.

Two weeks ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vetoed the original version of the amendment, forcing Bennett to offer his compromise.

A 61-MK majority is normally fairly easy for a governing coalition to achieve.

Naftali Bennett meeting with legislators from his Habayit Hayehudi party, July 2017.
Emil Salman

“Twice the capital was saved from the disaster of partition led by [former prime ministers] Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, who held a temporary majority in the Knesset. This has ended,” said Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, after the committee voted to support the amendment.

“The United Jerusalem Law that was passed today in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation will prevent any possibility of dividing Jerusalem. Unity surrounding the United Jerusalem Law will strengthen our position around the world and prevent pressure on Israel in the future.”

The amendment, also sponsored by MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), still faces three separate votes in the Knesset.

This isn’t the only hurdle facing the new bill. Bennett wants to legislate it by amending the Basic Law on Jerusalem. But the Basic Law on referendums stipulates a different mechanism for conceding territory. This law already requires 80 votes to divide Jerusalem, which would preclude a referendum.

But the referendum law also allows changes to Israel’s sovereignly over territory if 61 MKs vote to allow a referendum and the referendum succeeds.

“Since these are two parallel Basic Laws, Bennett’s new formulation of the Basic Law on Jerusalem does not necessarily override the Basic Law on referendums, and clarifications will have to be made for this to be the case,” a legal expert told Haaretz.

In the past, various governments managed to obtain the support of at least 61 MKs for conceding territory. The Oslo Accords were supported by 61 MKs, while the Gaza disengagement was backed by 67. The peace agreement with Egypt, which included the return of the entire Sinai Peninsula, was supported by 105 MKs.