Bill is blow to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas
Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a proposed amendment to Israel’s Basic Law, the equivalent of Israel’s Constitution, to take any Israeli withdrawal from Jerusalem off the table.
The law, which is being called the United Jerusalem bill, would require a majority of at least 80 members of Knesset to pass any decision to give up any part of Jerusalem, including east Jerusalem which Israel annexed in 1967.
The bill was proposed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who welcomed the preliminary passage. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also supports the law and it is expected to pass.
“The capital city was sparked twice from the disaster of division led by Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, when they had a temporary majority at the Knesset,” Bennett said, referring to two previous Israeli Prime Ministers. “The United Jerusalem bill will prevent any possibility of the division of Jerusalem. United around the United Jerusalem bill will strengthen our status in the world and prevent future pressure on Israel.”
The bill is being seen as another factor weakening Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ status in the West Bank. Palestinians have long pushed for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with east Jerusalem as its capital. This bill makes it increasingly unlikely that Israel would agree to withdraw from east Jerusalem and make it the capital of a Palestinian state.
The bill comes as Abbas was criticized in the West Bank for his quick condemnation of Friday’s attack, where three Arab citizens of Israel shot and killed two Israeli Druze policemen at the Lion’s Gate near the entrance to the Jerusalem holy site that Palestinians call Haram al-Sharif, and Jews call the Temple Mount.
The attackers ran onto the open plaza of the holy site, where Israeli police shot and killed them. Israel immediately closed the site to all Muslims and cancelled the Friday prayers for the first time in 1969. Israel also briefly detained the mufti, the local religious leader of the al-Aqsa mosque.
Israel gradually reopened the mosque to Muslim prayer on Sunday after installing metal detectors similar to those on the way to the nearby Jewish holy site, the Western Wall.
But Palestinians refused to enter go through the metal detectors and held their prayers outside.
Palestinian analysts said that by condemning the attack so strongly, Abbas, who many refer to his by his nickname Abu Mazen, looks increasingly weak.
“I understand why Abu Mazen is doing this – if the Israelis get mad at him, that is a problem for him,” Nashat Aqtash, a professor of political science at Birzeit University told The Media line. “But he looks weak, and as if he is not doing what he is supposed to be doing for the Palestinians.”
The incident could benefit the Islamist Hamas movement, which staged a rally to celebrate the attacks and called for more attacks on Israelis after the closure of the site. In a statement, Hamas described the closure of the site as a “religious war” and Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called on the Palestinian “uprising” to target both the Israeli army and Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
Abbas has been increasing pressure on Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, by cutting the amount of Israeli electricity the Palestinian Authority will pay for, cutting salaries of civil servants in Gaza, and even stalling on medical transfers for Gaza Palestinians into Israel.
Anger at Hamas has been intensifying along with the summer heat in Gaza. This latest incident could give Hamas a way to capture popular sentiment as the al-Aqsa mosque plays an important role in Palestinian consciousness.
Some analysts say that the latest incident has only intensified the differences between Abbas’s Fatah movement and the Islamist Hamas.
“Abbas believes in a diplomatic solution and not in armed struggle,” Hillel Cohen, an Arab-affairs expert at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “For many Palestinians and many Israelis it is already a religious issue.”