Fears of International Pressure Force Israel to Delay Vote on Jerusalem Annexation Bill

Netanyahu can't let ministers vote on the controversial legislation at this time, says a senior figure in the governing coalition. The bill would annex certain settlements

East Jerusalem's Mount Scopus and, in the foreground, the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, October 26, 2017.

The bill to annex Jerusalem-area settlements to the city will not be voted on at Sunday’s session of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation as previously planned, sources on the committee told Haaretz.

“The current version of the... bill invites international pressure and involves difficult legal issues,” said a senior figure in the governing coalition who requested anonymity. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot allow himself to advance this version at this time.”

The coalition views the bill – also known as the Greater Jerusalem Bill – as a follow-up project to the proposal by Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin to split off Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem from the city’s jurisdiction.

The original bill called for the full annexation to Israel of the settlements surrounding Jerusalem, but the current version, submitted by MK Yoav Kish (Likud) provides for “municipal” but not political annexation. It would let residents of the affected settlements vote in the mayoral and city council elections as a counterweight to Palestinian voters in Jerusalem, who in any event rarely vote.

But even if the bill passed in its current form it could provoke harsh international criticism of Israel, as the first step toward the full annexation of the area surrounding Jerusalem.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who also holds the intelligence affairs portfolio, said Sunday morning that the vote on the bill must take place, as was agreed. "This is a historic bill that would safeguard the Jewish majority in the capital and would strengthen our hold on the city," Katz said. "The bill doesn't deal with diplomatic issues and its importance is certainly greater to any electoral political considerations of one party or another - and therefore there is no reason to delay [the vote]."

Katz said that he wasn't told that the vote would be postponed and that he and Kish plan on speaking with Netanyahu about the bill on Sunday. "Guaranteeing the Jewish majority in Jerusalem is a historic mission and we should all work together to fulfill it," he said.

A different controversial bill is also on the committee’s agenda, one that calls for including Kiryat Arba and the Hebron Hills communities in the Negev Development Authority Law, which aids in economic development. MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) and 20 other coalition MKs are sponsoring the bill. They say that until a few years ago, these West Bank communities were covered by the law.

In 2011, Haaretz revealed that the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry, which oversees the authority, had funded part of the construction of Kiryat Arba’s cultural center – to the tune of 1.5 million shekels (then around $420,000).

“Recently Kiryat Arba and the Hebron Hills Regional Council were excluded from the law because of a legal interpretation of the term ‘Negev’ as referring to ‘state territories’ that lie beneath the 115th parallel,” the sponsors wrote in the bill’s explanatory notes. “According to this new interpretation, since the territories of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] are not part of the state’s territory, they are not included in the law.”

According to the sponsors, “This interpretation unjustifiably discriminates against the southern communities in Judea and Samaria that are south of the 115th parallel and have the same characteristics as the Negev communities and cope with the same challenges.”

The Negev Development Authority operates under a law passed during Yitzhak Shamir’s second government from 1986 to 1992. The agency oversees state-funded projects and is permitted to solicit donations in Israel and abroad and establish foundations for economic development in the south.

The law defines the Negev as being below the 115th parallel, which runs between Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malakhi; Kiryat Arba is to its south.