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Israel's Greater Jerusalem Bill

JURIST Guest Columnist Moien Odeh of the Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection provides a critical analysis of recent Israeli legislative efforts to enlarge the city limits of Jerusalem ...


In 2017, two bills were introduced from the Israeli government coalition's members - the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel (Amendment No. 2) Bill and the Greater Jerusalem Bill - both designed to substantively change the borders of Jerusalem and to change its demographics. Introduced during the 50th anniversary year of the 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem, their shared objective was the de facto annexation of the settlement blocs surrounding Jerusalem and the displacement of approximately 140 thousand (one third) of the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem living in the neighborhoods already effectively detached from the city by the Separation Barrier. These proposals were not raised in a vacuum; they are part of a continuum of initiatives advanced in recent years, all of which aim to unilaterally force determinative territorial-political facts on Jerusalem in the guise of "municipal measures."

Following the Israeli occupation of the Holy City in 1967, the Israeli authorities annexed approximately 70 square kilometers of West Bank land to the boundaries of the Jerusalem Municipality and imposed Israeli law on it. The annexed land did not include only the eastern city with its borders that were under Jordanian control, but also included an additional 64 kilometers that were located in the surrounding Palestinian villages and towns. Almost a third of the annexed territory was expropriated in order to build expansive Israeli neighborhoods/settlements along the annexation line. Additional areas were expropriated officially while others were declared national parks or green areas, effectively resulting in the expropriation of those areas as well.

Jewish Big Majority in the City

The main Israeli consideration was, and still is, to maintain an absolute demographic Jewish majority in Jerusalem. During the annexation, Israel refrained from the densely populated Palestinian areas to the borders of Jerusalem. Accordingly, several villages were set up outside the municipal boundaries of the city, while some of these lands were annexed to these borders. The Palestinians living within the newly demarcated boundaries of East Jerusalem were given permanent resident status, with no guarantee of civil or political rights within the city to which they were annexed

Since 1967, Israel has acted to reinforce a clear Jewish majority in Jerusalem through incentives and massive building for Israelis while simultaneously imposing legal and bureaucratic restrictions on Palestinian building and permanent residency status. In spite of Israeli policy making in Jerusalem, the Jewish majority in the city has steadily decreased over the years. The original Israeli aspiration for a majority of 70% Jews: 30% Palestinians has been eclipsed by a current forecast of 60% to 40% (now 37% Arab Palestinians).

The unilateral legal measures that Israel undertook in East Jerusalem did not change the legal status of East Jerusalem under international law. Until recently, no nation, including the United States, has recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem to Israel (de facto or de jure) or Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. In spite of this position, Israel has treated Jerusalem as a total Israeli land.

The Israeli authorities used different tools as part of the demographic battle, the first was building part of the separation wall inside the municipal borders of the city and pushing the people to live in the neighborhoods behind the wall (after building the wall, the Israeli authorities allowed huge and unsafe buildings in the neighborhoods behind the wall, and continued its very restricted building polices in the neighborhoods inside the wall). The others was the bills and draft laws to change the municipal borders of the city.

Basic Law: Jerusalem, 1980

The Basic Law: Jerusalem, declares that United Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It was passed July 30, 1980. The law came against the backdrop of the peace accords with Egypt.

According to UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, Jerusalem was to be an internationalized area under UN supervision, with the partition of the Palestine Mandate into Jewish and Arab states. However, the Arabs and the Jews, objected to internationalization, and the UN never tried to implement its international regime. It did continue to treat Jerusalem as though it was a "Corpus Separatum".

Jerusalem Basic law: Jerusalem evoked a storm of protest from the international community, resulting in UN Security Council Resolutions 476 and 478 later in 1980. These declared that the status of East Jerusalem was no different from that of the rest of the West Bank, that it was "occupied" territory and that all attempts by Israel to change the status of Israel are illegal and will be ignored by international law. In consequence of these resolutions, most foreign countries removed their embassies from Jerusalem. At this time, Israel built several neighborhoods on the periphery of Jerusalem at the border of the enlarged municipality, in order to emphasize its determination that Jerusalem must remain united under its control.

Greater Jerusalem Bill

Greater Jerusalem Bill is not new; in the 90s, Israeli started working on the "greater Jerusalem" Plan. It meant to artificially create a Jewish majority in Jerusalem by further enlarging the borders of the city to include three big blocks of settlements to it: Givat Ze'ev to the north, Ma'aleh Adumim to the east and Gush Etzion to the south. At the same time, Israeli policy makers tightened restrictions on the Palestinian population in Jerusalem

The idea of expanding Jerusalem's municipal borders "to increase the city's population and to ensure its Jewish majority" was proposed 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.

The new great Jerusalem bill that was suggested in July 2016 suggesting to include five settlements blocks (Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar Illit and Givat Ze'ev) with about 150 thousands settlers to be included under Jerusalem's municipal jurisdiction, but not officially annexed to Israel. The proposed bill was submitted by MK Yoav Kish (Likud) with the support of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), who also holds the Intelligence Affairs portfolio. According to the minister Katz, the motivation behind the bill is to "weaken the Arab hold on the capital." "The Greater Jerusalem Bill is an extremely important bill," KM Kish said, adding that it "enshrines Jerusalem's status as the eternal capital of the people of Israel and the Jewish majority in the capital."

"Save Jewish Jerusalem" was launched in 2016 and quickly enlisted the support of politicians, academicians 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.

Only hours before discussing the draft bill with ministerial committee of legislation affairs in October 2017, the bill was stricken from the committee's agenda as a result of international pressure (mainly American). Sources in the Israeli PM's office noted that "diplomatic preparation and has therefore been rejected for the moment." Now, and with Trump's Administration and the announcement of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel with the recent news about moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem in May 2018 to coincide with Israel's 70th anniversary.

The Israeli PM and his coalition is busy now with corruption charges and cases, but this does not mean that the government will reduce its efforts to create facts on the ground in Jerusalem and to change its borders hoping to change the demographic picture in the holy city.

Moien Odeh holds an LL.M from University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He works as IHL coordinator at ALMA (Association for the Promotion of International Humanitarian Law) and is a human rights lawyer from Jerusalem. He also has extensive experience in teaching international law and in working with many international charitable organizations.

Suggested citation:Moien Odeh, Israel's Greater Jerusalem Bill, JURIST — Professional Commentary, Mar. 5, 2018, http://jurist.org/dateline/2018/03/Moien-Odeh-greater-jerusalem-bill.php

This article was prepared for publication by Sean Merritt, an Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to him at commentary@jurist.org

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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