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Amid Al-Aqsa crisis, bill preventing division of Jerusalem passes first Knesset reading

July 27, 2017 2:34 P.M. (Updated: July 27, 2017 9:49 P.M.)
A general view of Jerusalem's Old City is seen on April 14, 2014. (AFP/Thomas Coex, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- As Palestinians celebrated the removal of Israeli security measures at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, a bill seeking to prevent the division of Jerusalem under a possible future two-state solution passed its first reading in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Wednesday night.

The bill, which would require that two-thirds of Israel’s 120 parliamentarians approve any decision to cede Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, passed the reading with 51 votes in favor and 42 against, according to a statement released by the Knesset on Thursday.

Bills need to pass three readings in the Knesset before they become law.

The bill, titled "Basic Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel" -- also known as the “United Jerusalem” bill -- stands as a suggested amendment to the Basic Law, Israel’s equivalent of a constitutio.

The proposed legislation would make it significantly harder to reach any potential agreement on a two-state solution, as negotiations have so far all proposed the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel with East Jerusalem as its capital.

East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967 in a move never recognized by the international community, while 137 states recognize a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israeli law currently only requires that 61 MKs vote in favor of dividing Jerusalem, compared to 80 should the bill become law.

“You know very well that no Palestinian leader will agree to give up East Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine,” MK Jamal Zahalqa of the Joint List, which represents Palestinian citizens of Israel, said. “This will not happen.”

“There will be no agreement with such a law. There will be no chance of achieving peace,” Zahalqa added. “Whoever votes for this is voting for eternal war, the burial of the dream of peace that many in this land still dream.”

The bill would also allow for Jerusalem’s municipal lines to be redrawn, while maintaining the neighborhoods excluded from the city under Israeli sovereignty.

Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem that have been cut off from the rest of the city by Israel’s illegal separation wall, such as Kafr Aqab and the Shufaat refugee camp, would likely be affected by this part of the bill.

The Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCPRJ) accused the Knesset of “taking advantage” of the recent uproar surrounding Israeli measures at Al-Aqsa to quietly move the “United Jerusalem” bill forward.

“The bill appears to consolidate an existing phenomenon, the annexation of Jerusalem, which has been strengthened ever since the (1967) Six -Day war through different measure leading to forcible population transfer,” CCPRJ said in a statement on Wednesday.

“These policies are enforced by Israel in a deliberate and planned manner, with the declared purpose of altering the demographic composition of the population in Jerusalem and asserting Jewish-Israeli domination,” the group added.

The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem through settlement construction and mass demolitions of Palestinian homes.

A growing number of activists have criticized a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace given the existing political context, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

The “United Jerusalem” bill moved forward on the same day as the Knesset debated the so-called “Nation-state” bill, which seeks to further enshrine into Israeli law Israel’s status as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.”

In addition to legislating on the Jewish character of the state of Israel and official adopting the Israeli flag, national anthem, and language -- Hebrew -- the bill also refers to Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.

According to a Knesset press release, the bill also states that “should the court encounter a legal question that demands a ruling and be unable to find an answer through (existing) shall rule in light of the principles of freedom, justice, integrity, and peace contained in the heritage of Israel” -- a country which has been accused of war crimes of violations of international law for its military occupation of Palestinian territory and its human rights abuses targeting Palestinians.

MK Amir Ohana of the far-right Likud party, who heads the joint committee leading the discussion on the law, said he hoped “that we will give the state its ‘identification card’” by the 70th anniversary of creation of the state of Israel, in 2018.

“Those who say the bill is racism, it is as though they are saying that Zionism is racism,” Ohana said.

“We didn`t come to Israel, Israel came to us," MK Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, countered during the debate. "Our language is part of this space, of our homeland...No apartheid law will erase the fact that there are two nations here.”

Meanwhile, Isaac Herzog of the opposition Zionist Union party warned that the legislation was “playing with fire” with non-Jewish citizens of Israel.

“What are you going to tell Shakib Shinan -- that he has a mark on his forehead because he isn't Jewish?” Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Herzog as saying, mentioning former a MK and Druze citizen of Israel, whose son, Israeli police officer Kamil Shinan, was killed in an attack in East Jerusalem earlier this month.

“This law is superfluous. It violates the sanctity of everything to do with full equal rights.”
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