Israeli Minister Compromises on Bill Aimed at Preventing Division of Jerusalem

Bennett agrees to a softer version of a bill that touches on conceding sovereignty in any part of Jerusalem under a peace deal

Naftali Bennett, education minister and head of the national-religious Habayit Hayehudi party, walks into the weekly cabinet meeting.
Mark Israel Salem

A week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vetoed Education Minister Naftali Bennett's bill that would make it difficult to divide Jerusalem in any diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians, the minister is putting forth a new version of their bill.

The bill now stipulates that conceding sovereignty in any part of Jerusalem will require a special majority of 80 Knesset members (out of 120), as it had previously proposed – but adds that a simple majority of 61 votes will be able to annul this clause.

This is a majority the coalition can easily achieve should it need the Knesset to ratify a peace deal that includes the division of Jerusalem. Habayit Hayehudi had asked that 80 votes also be required to annul this clause but accepted the compromise.

A review of previous Knesset resolutions shows that different governments managed to obtain the support of at least 61 members of Knesset for conceding territory. The Oslo Accords were supported by 61 MKs, while the disengagement from Gaza was backed by 67. In contrast, the peace agreement with Egypt, which included the return of the entire Sinai Peninsula, was supported by 105 Knesset members. The new bill is expected to come up for discussion by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, after voting was deferred last week at the instruction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is not the only hurdle facing the new bill. Habayit Hayehudi leader Bennett wants to legislate it by changing the Basic Law on Jerusalem, whereas another Basic Law relating to holding referendums stipulates a different mechanism for conceding territory under Israeli sovereignty, including Jerusalem. This law already requires 80 votes to support the division of Jerusalem but it allows the transfer of territory with a simple majority of 61 votes if this is ratified in a referendum. A jurist who examined the two laws told Haaretz that “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 in order for this to be the case.”