The vote on the Greater Jerusalem Bill was delayed after the United States government expressed concerns that it entailed annexation of the settlements and would undermine U.S. efforts to foster peace talks in Israel, according to David Bitan, the chairman of the Likud coalition. Likud, the political party of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, proposed this bill, which would place 150,000 people living in Jewish settlements near Jerusalem under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem municipality. These people would be subject to Jerusalem’s laws and would able to vote in Jerusalem’s elections.
The bill was scheduled to be submitted to a ministerial cabinet committee on legislation on October 29 before being subjected to a vote in Knesset, the Israeli parliament. The legislation would add 19 settler communities to Jerusalem’s jurisdiction. Currently, these 19 communities are considered parts of five major settlements: Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar Illit, and Givat Ze’ev. However, with this bill, these communities would be considered sub-municipalities of Jerusalem, affording them a degree of autonomy. The bill would also remove three Palestinian communities: Anata, Kufr Aqab, and the Shu’fat refugee camp. These communities are home to 100,000 Palestinians.
One of the bill’s supporters in parliament, Minister Israel Katz, stated that it would “ensure a Jewish majority in a united Jerusalem.” Additionally, the notes of the bill state that since many Jewish people in Jerusalem have moved to the coasts, it would restore “Jerusalem’s status as a symbol and the heart of the Jewish people.” If passed, the bill would change the composition of Jerusalem from 61.1 percent Jewish and 37.3 percent Arab to 67 percent Jewish and 32 percent Arab.
The Greater Jerusalem bill follows several campaigns and proposed legislations that address the concern of Jewish communities losing their majority in Jerusalem. Former minister Haim Ramon launched a plan to “save Jewish Jerusalem,” along with several other public figures who seek to change the Jerusalem Basic Law that annexed 28 Palestinian villages after the war in 1967. Israeli politician Naftali Bennett proposed legislation in Knesset that would divide Jerusalem into a predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem and a predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem.
Israeli settlements are communities without official authorization built on land that Israel occupied in the 1967 war in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Golan Heights. Settlements are one of the main obstacles to peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinian government, as Palestine says that they cannot accept settlements in the land that they want for the Palestinian state. Furthermore, Palestine argues that the checkpoints and roadblocks used to protect the settlements restrict Palestinian freedom of movement.
Netanyahu has stated his support of the settlements, vowing not to allow them to be torn down or uprooted. However, U.S. politicians have consistently stated that Israel should dismantle its settlements in order to reach an agreement with Palestine. Furthermore, much of the international community, including the United Nations, views these settlements as violations of international law. Consequently, although the bill was expected to pass in committee, Israeli left-wing politicians and U.S. officials, including the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, have expressed their concerns about the implications of the bill.
The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party also opposesthe Greater Jerusalem Bill, as expanding the city borders is likely to dilute the party’s power and decrease the likelihood of the election of a UTJ member as mayor.