Israel has made another step toward securing Jerusalem as its permanent capital in an overnight vote that increased the parliamentary majority needed to cede any part of the city. The change follows the issuance of a U.N. rebuke of President Trump’s acknowledgment of Jerusalem as the legitimate capital of Israel.
The Knesset, Israel’s unicameral legislature, has voted in favor of instituting a required “supermajority” for future decisions which would relinquish any part of Jerusalem. A majority of at least 80 members, or two-thirds, will now be needed in the Knesset to give away sovereignty over any part of the city, a number greater than the usual majority of 61 in the 120-member parliament. All decisions to divide Jerusalem or cede any other land deemed to belong to Israel must also pass a popular referendum.
The move came in the form of an amendment to one of Israel’s “basic” or constitutional laws. The Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, states that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel,” a stance that this vote reinforces, at least in the eyes of the Israeli coalition government. The amendment passed with a vote of 64 in favor and 51 against, although, according to the Jerusalem Post, it has also opened a loophole whereby the city’s municipal boundaries can be changed where they couldn’t previously.
Predictably, the amendment has already proved divisive, with Zionists and Palestinian advocates weighing in on either side of the debate. Jerusalem, a hotly contested city and a holy site for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, was annexed and unified by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day war, although Palestinians still consider East Jerusalem to be their rightful capital. The amendment has been interpreted as a move to make it more difficult to surrender East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority in any two-state solution or peace negotiation.
According to the Jewish Press, explanatory notes that accompanied the bill address security issues as grounds for the amendment, citing previous situations where “terrorist elements” have moved into areas from which Israel has withdrawn, including Gaza and Lebanon. The notes also point toward preventing “signs” that some may seek to “undermine” Israel’s hold on Jerusalem, “as a foundation of our national existence.”
Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, member of the Zionist political party Jewish Home, who proposed the legislation, said in November that, “The goal of the bill is to prevent concessions as part of diplomatic deals.” She added:
“Jerusalem will never be on the negotiating table. The State of Israel will not allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem. Get it into your heads that Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish people and will remain the capital of the Jewish people for all eternity.”
Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin said the amendment “strengthens the defensive shield against those on the Left who want to try to harm the future of Israeli sovereignty in a united Jerusalem.”
Leader of the opposition Isaac Herzog took another view, saying that the policy would carry Israel “toward a terrible disaster.”Critics of the decision believe that it would prevent any peaceful resolution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Esawi Frej of the Meretz party believes there’s “no political solution without East Jerusalem being Palestinian,” while Dov Khenin of Joint Arab List said the bill should be called “The Prevention of Peace Act.” He added, “The real meaning of this law is that blood that will be spilled…Dividing Jerusalem is not only the wise way, it is also the Jewish way.” He continued:
“Without a deal on Jerusalem there will be no peace. West Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem should be the capital of an independent Palestinian state established alongside the State of Israel.”
A CITY OR PEACE?
The decision is the latest step in an overall trend as Israel attempts to consolidate its sovereignty over Jerusalem. The ideology was recently boosted by President Trump’s public acknowledgment of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, and his decision to move the U.S. embassy to the city.
The Knesset’s press release for the law quotes Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s fifth Prime Minister, who said, “If I am asked to choose between the peace process and united Jerusalem, I choose united Jerusalem.” After decades of conflict, it seems little has changed.
Whether dividing Jerusalem between Israel and a Palestinian Authority would really lead to peace, nobody can say, but for the moment it seems that both sides are digging in their heels and the road to peace seems more distant than ever.