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Israel Set To Vote On Annexation-lite Of Jerusalem Area Communities

By Linda Gradstein | The Media Line

October 28, 2017

A picture taken on May 21, 2017 from the Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev shows the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem behind the controversial Israeli separation wall. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Palestinians call for international sanctions against the ‘greater Jerusalem’ bill

The “greater Jerusalem” bill which would incorporate 19 Jewish communities in the West Bank to the Jerusalem municipality is expected to gain preliminary approval in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, next week. The bill aims to bring the locations under the city’s municipal jurisdiction but not officially annex them.

It also aims to downgrade the status of three Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem that are beyond the barrier that Israel began building in and around the West Bank after a spate of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel in 2002. The residents of the three neighborhoods, including the Shuafat refugee camp, will become sub-municipalities of the city, a status similar to the communities that will be added.

“It aims to ensure a Jewish majority in the united city and to expand its borders by adding 150,000 residents to the area of a greater Jerusalem,” Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said in a statement to reporters. “It’s an unequivocal response to all those in the international community who are questioning the Jewish people’s right to Jerusalem.”

Unlike an earlier version of the bill, the current version does not call for annexing the settlements to Israel. But critics say it will have the same effect.

“It is de facto annexation if not de jure,” Hagit Ofran, an expert on Jewish construction in the West Bank at the dovish Israeli Peace Now group, told The Media Line. “It means that Israel intends to expand the settlements around Jerusalem and not allow this area to become part of the Palestinian state. It means that Israel is turning its back on the two-state solution.”

The communities that are being discussed include the large urban center of Ma’aleh Adumim, located a few miles east of Jerusalem and home to about 40,000 residents, and Beitar Illit, an ultra-Orthodox city that straddles the border with the West Bank. They are all within what is called the Israeli “consensus,” meaning that a majority of Israelis believe the communities should remain part of the country even after a theoretical peace agreement that would create an independent Palestinian state.

Even some Palestinian officials have privately said they would be willing to consider “land swaps” in the context of a future deal, meaning that Israel would annex West Bank areas with large Jewish populations in exchange for current Israeli territory. However, Palestinian officials say any such arrangement must be determined within a negotiating process and not as a result of a unilateral decision on Israel’s part.

“Undoubtedly, Israel is in the business of prolonging the military occupation and not ending it, legalizing the presence of extremist Jewish settlers on Palestinian soil, and completing the total isolation and annexation of Palestinian Jerusalem. Such efforts represent the end of the two-state solution,” senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement. She said the international community should impose sanctions on Israel if it moves forward with this plan.

Even those likely to be supportive of the move were hesitant to publicly back the legislation.

“I still don’t know the details so I don’t want to comment,” Oded Revivo, the mayor of Efrat, part of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, told The Media Line.

“It’s not a foreign ministry issue,” a foreign affairs spokesman said.

In the past, Katz has said the aim of the bill is to “weaken the Arab hold on Jerusalem.”

In 1967, Israel’s formal annexation of east Jerusalem was not recognized by the international community. Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that east Jerusalem is part of “Israel’s sovereign capital” and that the Jewish state will never cede that part of the city.

Palestinians contend that east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, must be part of any future Palestinian state.

Since 1967, Israel has tried to maintain the approximately two-thirds Jewish majority in Jerusalem. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 63 percent of Jerusalem’s 800,000 residents are Jewish-Israeli and 37 percent are Palestinian.

As residents of Jerusalem, however, Palestinians are issued the coveted blue Israeli ID card that enables freedom of movement, and eligibility to receive Israeli health care and social security payments. Education is also provided by the Jerusalem municipality and a growing number of schools are adopting an Israeli curriculum rather than a Palestinian one.

It is not clear what changes, if any, the new bill would bring. The Palestinian neighborhoods that are behind the barrier and are set to become “sub-municipalities” are already known as areas with high crime and poverty ratees. Many of the wealthier residents have moved out, and some Palestinians are concerned that the new bill, once passed, will spark a new exodus.

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