Analysis

The Israeli Right's Vaunted Jerusalem Amendment Changes Nothing

Naftali Bennett claims he made it harder to divide Jerusalem in the future, but he hasn't really

Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting, Oct. 15, 2017. Picture shows the minister raising his eyebrows, wearing a light-colored shirt (white or light blue), a burgundy tie and a dark blue suit. He is holding a spiral notebook in his left hand.
Abir Sultan / Pool Photo via AP

His success in amending the Basic Law on Jerusalem will make it harder for future governments to divide the city in any diplomatic deal reached with the Palestinians, Education Minister Naftali Bennett boasted on Tuesday.

“The Mount of Olives, the Old City, Temple Mount and the City of David will remain in our hands forever. No political maneuvers will permit a division of our capital," Bennett wrote on his Facebook page. He signed the post with an Israeli flag emoji.

The real significance of the amendment isn't the supermajority of 80 Knesset members that will now be required in order to transfer any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority in a peace deal. That stipulation could be reversed without much difficulty. The true significance lies in last-minute changes introduced under pressure from the right wing, which will make it harder to implement a plan to split off Palestinian neighborhoods lying beyond the separation barrier from Jerusalem’s jurisdiction. This plan by bMinister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin would establish new municipalities for these Palestinian neighborhoods.

Elkin had wanted to amend the law so that Jerusalem’s area would not be based on its municipal boundaries. His version would still have made it illegal to transfer Jerusalem territory to the Palestinian Authority, but it would have set up these new municipal authorities, which would have de facto split the city.

The Palestinian neighborhoods in question include the Shuafat refugee camp, the village of Aqeb, and other neighborhoods located beyond the separation barrier, which are badly neglected by the Jerusalem municipality and other government agencies.

Elkin's version of the law, however, was greeted by intense opposition in right—wing circles over the last 24 hours. Jerusalem city council member Aryeh King called it “the most dangerous step threatening Jerusalem’s future as a united city.” A late—hour meeting between Elkin and Bennett resolved the issue: they decided that splitting off any neighborhoods would have to be brought for Knesset approval first. The coalition will not need a super—majority for this.

Elkin had hoped to leave the Knesset out of such decisions, leaving them to a committee and the prerogative of the interior minister. It is unclear what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position is on this matter.

In any case, the new amendment does not change much. A future government could simply void the law with a regular majority of 61 votes. In any case, a Basic Law: Referendum already requires an 80-vote majority for approving conceding territory in Jerusalem — which too can be cancelled with a simple majority of 61.