Netanyahu: Israel Must Coordinate Jerusalem Annexation Bill With U.S.

The U.S. asked Israel for clarifications about the bill, which would annex West Bank settlements to Jerusalem, Netanyahu says

Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on October 29, 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel must discuss a bill that would annex West Bank settlements to Jerusalem with the United States before moving forward and voting on it.

During a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said that the U.S. administration inquired about the bill, which is still on the docket for a ministerial panel. 

"We are in touch with the Americans," Netanyahu said. "The Americans turned to us and inquired what the bill was about. As we have been coordinating with them until now, it is worth [to continue] talking and coordinating with them. We are working to promote and develop the settlement enterprise."

The bill has been discussed in Israel since last year. Netanyahu initially agreed to promote it in July following an attack on the Temple Mount that killed two police officers. But so far it has never reached even the most preliminary voting stages.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation was slated to vote on the bill on Sunday but a senior figure in the governing coalition said the vote will be postponed. 

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

According to the bill, which was submitted by MK Yoav Kish (Likud) with the support of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), the settlements of Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar Illit and Givat Ze'ev will be included under Jerusalem's municipal jurisdiction, but not officially annexed to Israel. 

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 than 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.

On Thursday the U.S. State Department signaled that it was not worried by the bill because the legislation is a long way from being approved by the Knesset, and could perhaps never even reach that point.

"My understanding is that the piece of legislation is in the early stages of development," White House Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said during a daily press briefing. "Some of these would be internal matters that I wouldn’t want to comment on. I know that it has to go through several steps before it would even become law."

Another U.S. official said that "it's fair to say that the U.S. is discouraging actions that it believes will unduly distract the principals from focusing on the advancement of peace negotiations," and that "the Jerusalem expansion bill was considered by the administration to be one of those actions."

Groups that support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last week warned about the possible implications of the bill. The Israel Policy Forum said the legislation "is the first step down the path of unilaterally annexing settlements to Israel itself," adding that it "will severely damage prospects for a two-state solution, communicate bad faith toward the Palestinians, and cast doubts on Israel's commitment to a negotiated permanent status agreement."

Americans For Peace Now urged U.S. President Donald Trump to oppose the bill, stating that it could “kill” the two-state solution. “If President Trump now allows the annexation of settlements, he will condemn Israelis and Palestinians to perpetual conflict and bloodshed, and become a partner in turning Israel into an international pariah,” it said.