Israel Postpones Vote on Thwarting Jerusalem Division, as to Not Embarrass Trump

Voting on the law, which would place Palestinian neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty in the event of a peace agreement, will take place after Pence's visit

The Palestinian refugee camp of Shoafat in East Jerusalem, where tens of thousands of Palestinians live beyond the West Bank separation barrier, December 5, 2017.
Ahmad Gharabli/AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed the Knesset vote on a bill that would make it more difficult to transfer parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority, in order not to embarrass U.S. President Donald Trump following harsh international criticism of his decision last week to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.  

The vote will now take place after next week’s planned visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence

The proposed law – officially an amendment to the Basic Law on Jerusalem – was initiated by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin. 

The amendment has two main goals. First, it would make it more difficult to transfer parts of Jerusalem to Palestinian responsibility. Second, it would pave the way to separate certain Palestinian neighborhoods that are located beyond the West Bank separation barrier but are still part of the Jerusalem municipality – such as Kafr Aqab and the Shoafat refugee camp – and place them in a new municipal body that remains under Israeli sovereignty.    

Although Bennett agreed to the postponement, this will probably make it harder for him to get the 61 Knesset members he needs to pass the amendment. 

The vote was originally scheduled for Monday, along with a host of votes on other government-backed bills. The governing coalition has ordered full attendance from all its lawmakers, and nearly all of them will be present – which would have seemingly allowed the Jerusalem bill to pass as well. But now the likelihood of its passing seems more uncertain.

The proposed law would require the approval of a super-majority of 80 Knesset members (out of 120) to transfer parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians as part of any future peace agreement. 

However, the amendment also includes an escape clause allowing 61 MKs, the standard majority, to override this requirement. In practice, this means the law would not place any real obstacle on dividing up Jerusalem if the coalition backs the agreement – but could make the process of the Knesset’s approval of any such deal more complicated.

In addition, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill calling for the annulment of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, and the application of Israeli law to Israeli academic institutions beyond the Green Line (Israel’s pre-1967 borders).

The bill was sponsored by MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Yakov Margi (Shas) along with Bennett's support. The bill will now go forward to the Knesset with the government’s backing. 

If it becomes law, institutions of higher education in West Bank settlements would fall under the auspices of the existing Council for Higher Education in Israel. 

The separate agency for the West Bank council was established in the 1990s as a way of circumventing legal obstacles concerning the accreditation of Ariel University.