Yes, Jerusalem is the Eternal City; yes, its recorded history spans over 3,000 years; and yes, from a Jewish-national standpoint, it transcends time and history.
Nevertheless, it is certainly remarkable, not to say absurd, that it is now nearly eight years that the saga of the Greater Jerusalem Law has been ongoing.
Back on January 12, 2010, a new Knesset lobby group was inaugurated, called the Greater Jerusalem lobby. It was headed by four MKs: two who are now government ministers, one who has since retired from politics, and one from the United Torah Judaism party (for more on the very notable significance of that, see below).
That is to say, ever since January 2010, the topic of expanding Jerusalem in order to strengthen the city demographically and otherwise has been on the table. That month marked the end of the first year of the Obama presidency, and diplomatic “gestures” toward the Palestinian Authority were being demanded of Israel.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said at the lobby’s founding event, “Any gesture toward the PA must be accompanied by something that will strengthen Jerusalem.”
Then-MK Uri Ariel, now the minister of housing, said at the time, “Our goal is to increase the population of Jerusalem to over a million, with a solid Jewish majority.”
The backdrop was the shrinking Jewish majority in the capital, which had stood some years earlier at 70 percent but was dropping sharply to about 65 percent. Though there is some evidence that the trend is slowing, it has continued to drop dangerously since then.
Four months later, for the first time, legislation on this matter was proposed, by the Likud’s Tzipi Hotovely. The bill sought to expand the capital to include Gush Etzion, Beitar Illit, Maaleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, and Mevaseret Zion.
The objective, as the proposal explained, was to bolster the weakening status of Israel’s capital city and to “restore Jerusalem as the symbol and heart of the Jewish nation.”
And the Greater Jerusalem Law certainly packs a punch to that end. If passed, it will fortify the Holy City in the wake of the dangerous plans being floated for the city’s division – including one being promoted by former minister Chaim Ramon under the misleading name “The Movement to Save Jewish Jerusalem.”
If such a plan were ever to be implemented, it would expose the city to grave security and demographic threats, Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital city would be undermined and destabilized, and its delicate urban fabric would be dealt a possible death blow.
Instead, the Greater Jerusalem initiatives seek to preserve united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, for the benefit of all its citizens, both Jews and Arabs, predicated upon the rights of the Jewish nation to the city.
Back to 2010: The bill went nowhere, but it continued to make headlines every few months. Finally, in May 2014, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz became associated with the drive to expand Yerushalayim. It was at one of those “dead” periods in the make-believe talks process with the PA, and Katz said, “This is the time to widen Jerusalem’s borders, based on municipal models in London and Paris.”
That idea also made zero headway – and, in fact, all was quiet on the Greater Jerusalem front until this year. In January, Minister Katz renewed his efforts to promote the bill, and increasing numbers of MKs joined up: Hotovely again, Yehuda Glick, Gilad Erdan, and others.
As the bill gained momentum, the Jewish Home and Likud parties began to quibble over who would receive credit for the bill. Finally, however, it began to look last week as if the bill would actually be approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation – meaning that the government coalition would be bound to support it in the Knesset.
And what about the U.S.? One headline last week said that State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert implied the U.S. would not object to the bill. She called it an “internal Israeli matter” and gave no indication that the Trump administration opposed it in any way.
Within days, however, an unnamed “senior State Department official” was quoted as saying “the U.S. does not encourage actions that it believes would distract negatively from the sides’ focus on advancing the peace process.”
As a result of the American hesitation, the prime minister put the bill on hold once again. MK David Bitan, Likud Knesset faction whip, acknowledged American fears that the bill involved annexing areas from Judea and Samaria. However, he said, Netanyahu “doesn’t think this is about annexation, and neither do I. We have to take the time to clarify it to the Americans. So if the bill passes in a week, or in a month, it will be less problematic.”
It’s worthwhile to review the bill’s objectives once again: “To strengthen Jerusalem by adding thousands of Jews, and at the same time to weaken the Arab hold on the capital,” in the words of Minister Katz.
We noted above that one of the early supporters of Greater Jerusalem was MK Uri Maklev of the haredi United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party – who now says that his party will oppose the bill.
Why? He and his party colleagues are very open: “Bringing in large population sectors from outside the city is liable to upset the balance of political power in the city.” That is, the party fears the haredi public will lose its political clout in future municipal elections if towns with large secular populations such as Givat Ze’ev and Mevaseret Zion are integrated into the city.
Interestingly, city councilman Yitzchak Pindros, also of UTJ, said he welcomes the Greater Jerusalem law, and is confident it will not harm the haredi populace.
At this point we must hope that the saga is finally coming to an end, and that the Greater Jerusalem Law will soon come up for a Knesset vote.
To become a strong advocate for keeping Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty, visit the Holy City itself as well as the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website (www.keepjerusalem.org). Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for information on our bus tours in news-making areas of the capital.