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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/9/17

"Creeping Annexation": Why Israel Shelved the "Greater Jerusalem Law"

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From Palestine Chronicle


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The postponing of an Israeli Knesset bill that would have annexed major illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank to the Jerusalem municipality is the result of behind-the-scenes US and, possibly, European pressure. But the story of the so-called "Greater Jerusalem law" does not end there.

Israel wants to maintain an absolute demographic Jewish majority in Jerusalem, including in occupied and illegally annexed Palestinian East Jerusalem. There is enough support in the Knesset and among the public to ensure that coveted Jewish dominance. But the political balances, and possible drawbacks, are just too delicate and great for Israel to get exactly what it wants, even if there is a clear consensus among Israeli Jewish politicians and the public to permanently change the status of the city.

One of the factors that the Israeli government is considering is the support of the Donald Trump administration. How far will Trump go to support Israeli transgressions, while continuing to advocate an "ultimate deal" -- his own version of finding a political resolution to the conflict resulting from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine?

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True, the Trump administration has done its utmost to reassure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of its undying loyalty. Trump's last visit to Israel was a major step in that direction, where US commitment to Israel's security and future were made abundantly and repeatedly clear. Moreover, the joint US-Israel push against the United Nations and its smaller institutions -- like UNESCO and UNHRC -- led by US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, aims to torpedo future international initiatives that are critical of Israel's military occupation of Palestine.

Yet, on the other hand, using back channels and without much fanfare, Trump has been promoting his own plan for "regional peace," marks of which are still unclear.

While Israel is routinely allowed to slowly alter the landscape of occupied Palestinian areas, construct walls and expand its illegal settlements, an explicit, major plan to annex large regions of the West Bank would have ignited the kind of backlash that could likely bring an end to Trump's Middle East politicking and complicate his relations with various Arab governments.

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The "Greater Jerusalem law" would have done just that.

According to Israeli commentator Shlomo Elder the idea of expanding Jerusalem's municipal borders "to increase the city's population and to ensure its Jewish majority" was proposed by hardline Likud party member Yisrael Katz in 2007. It was deferred then, due to the fear of a strong international reaction.

The idea did not die. It morphed into a movement and politicians from all ideological backgrounds joined in, fearing that, in the future, Israel will lose the "demographic war" in Jerusalem, as well as in the rest of historic Palestine.

"Save Jewish Jerusalem" was launched in 2016 and quickly enlisted the support of politicians, academics and other well-regarded Israelis, all united by their fear that they "would wake up with a Palestinian mayor in Jerusalem."

So, when the "Greater Jerusalem law" was introduced earlier this year, it seemed like the logical evolution of a current that has been on the rise for years.

The bill proposed to expand the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to include major illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including Ma'aleh Adumim and the Gush Etzion settlement cluster. Moreover, it endeavored to bring 150,000 Jewish settlers into Jerusalem as eligible voters, who would have naturally tipped the political scene more to the right. Concurrently, the law would have further demoted the status of 100,000 Palestinians, who would find themselves in a political grey area.

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The authors of the bill were hardly discrete about its intentions. One of the two authors is Katz himself, who is now a minister in Netanyahu's right-wing government. Explaining the motives behind the bill, Katz blatantly said: The bill aims to "ensure a Jewish majority in the united city."

Israelis agree. According to a national poll published on 3 November, 72 percent of Israeli Jews want Israel to maintain control over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem; 68 percent want Jews to be able to pray in these holy sites; and 58 percent support Katz's initiative to expand the Jerusalem municipal boundaries and merge major illegal Jewish settlements under one municipality.

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Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold (more...)
 

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