Confusion and consternation for united Jerusalem: This past Sunday, just minutes before Israel’s ministerial committee for legislation was to approve a bill practically guaranteeing Israeli sovereignty over united Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu used his executive privilege and vetoed it.
The bill is being advanced by members of the Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) Party. It stipulates that no Israeli government may approve the division of Jerusalem between Israel and an Arab entity unless 80 Knesset Members agree to it. The fact that the bill has been thwarted twice before proves exactly why it is so necessary.
The Likud and the Jewish Home party each blamed the other for Sunday’s fiasco – and then, nearly as soon as it had arisen, the storm died down: Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) announced that they had agreed to enter into talks for the purpose of agreeing upon the bill’s wording by this coming Sunday.
In the background, not many noticed this was not the first time Netanyahu had passed up a chance to support such a bill. In 2007, then-Likud faction head Gideon Saar first proposed this idea. He explained that it was incumbent upon the Knesset to protect Jerusalem and its “special meaning to the Jewish people.” His proposal was ultimately buried, only to be revived in late 2013 – garnering just slightly more success.
That time, the legislation committee voted in favor of the same bill proposed by Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party. The passage meant the coalition parties had to support the bill in the Knesset. However, in the event, nearly the entire Likud faction, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and current President Ruby Rivlin, absented themselves from the Knesset vote, and the bill was handily defeated.
As Minister Bennett has explained, “The bill is a way to prevent a future situation in which a temporary majority such as existed under Olmert or Barak would bring about the division of Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish Nation.”
KeepJerusalem, together with lovers of Jerusalem around the world, will keep an eye on the Bennett-Elkin talks, in the hope that this time they will produce the desired results and ensure that no future government will even consider dividing Yerushalayim.
It’s not only loyal Jews who want Jerusalem to remain united; Dr. Ramadan Dabash, mukhtar of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher, says he and many of his neighbors have a similar desire.
According to Dabash, Israel’s “occupation” of Yerushalayim is not only quite benign but actually very much to the liking of the Arabs living there. They have little use for the Palestinian Authority, and they like Jerusalem just the way it is now: unified under Israeli rule.
Still, not all is rosy. For Dr. Dabash, the thorns for the Arabs of Jerusalem are infrastructure and housing. He said that although “Mayor Nir Barkat has invested hundreds of millions of shekels in our neighborhoods in roads, supporting walls, education, etc… The gap that has been created over the years requires additional such efforts.”
KeepJerusalem largely agrees with Dabash on this point. A recent KeepJerusalem policy paper prepared for Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding the future of greater Jerusalem states as follows:
“Despite notable efforts in recent years to reduce the large disparities in services and infrastructures between the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, these still remain lower in eastern than in western Jerusalem. The disparity is hundreds and sometimes thousands of percent in basic infrastructures such as roads, sidewalks, sewer systems, schools, public parks, lighting and more. The status quo is both not ethical and places an unnecessary question mark over the status of Israel as sovereign throughout the entire city.”
Housing is also a complex issue, and the many thousands of illegal structures that have been built throughout the Arab neighborhoods are controversial from every standpoint. The Arabs say they are not afforded the opportunity to build legally, while the Jews say that barely anything is being done to stop the onslaught of illegal Arab construction.
Acknowledging that many of his neighbors oppose Jewish construction, Dabash says, “You can’t please everyone. I’m in favor of construction for both sides, Jewish and Arab; there must be balance.”
Let us conclude with a positive item reported by Haaretz this week: Jewish housing projects in Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Pisgat Ze’ev and Shimon HaTzaddik are once again on the table. The state has removed its long-standing objections to the construction, and the following projects are slated to be placed on the Jerusalem Planning Committee within the next two weeks: 270 units in Gilo, 200 in Ramot, 214 in N’vei Yaakov, and two projects totaling 1,060 units in Pisgat Ze’ev.
In addition, four buildings are to be built in Shimon HaTzaddik/Sheikh Jarrah on Jewish-owned property long occupied by Arab families. The buildings will house 13 families, a wing of Yeshivat Ohr Same’ach, and an office complex.
KeepJerusalem invites you to visit Jerusalem and take part in our bus tours of critical but little-known parts of Jerusalem and environs and see for yourselves the implications of dividing our Holy City. For information, send an e-mail to [email protected] or visit our website www.keepjerusalem.org.