In an all-night session, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, enacted a law early Tuesday making it much more difficult to negotiate Jerusalem as part of a peace process. The holy city is the most sensitive — and perhaps most important — issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with parts of the city claimed by both sides as their capital.
The law was passed as an amendment to Israel’s Basic Law — the closest thing Israel has to a constitution — which gives it more political weight. The amendment stipulates that any attempt to transfer sovereign control of Jerusalem to a foreign entity needs to be approved by a super-majority of 80 Knesset members out of 120.
Previously, the requirement was a majority of 61 members.
And, in a move that is surely to be met with Palestinian outrage, the amendment also authorizes the Knesset to change the municipal borders of Jerusalem with a simple majority, provided any neighborhoods removed from the city remain under Israeli sovereignty. That allows Israel to remove Palestinian neighborhoods from the city, per the Greater Jerusalem Plan being advanced by members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.
In response to the new law, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said it was a “declaration of war” against the Palestinian people and their identity.
“This vote clearly indicates that Israel has officially declared the end of the so-called political process and has already begun to impose dictating and de facto policies,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
“There is no legitimacy to the Trump decision, and there is no legitimacy to all the decisions of the Israeli Knesset. We will not allow in any way to allow such plans that are dangerous for the future of the region and the world to pass.”
“The goal is one that is shared by the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis,” Deputy Minister Michael Oren told CNN, “that Jerusalem will remain our capital and a Jewish majority city.”
Advancing the plan would also fuel unrest in a city and a region that have seen regular demonstrations since US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in early December.
Praising the amendment’s passage, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said, “Our understanding is clear: No Jew has the authority to give up any part of the land. Nor does the Jewish people.”
Though the amendment requires 80 votes to cede any part of Jerusalem, the amendment itself can be canceled or changed with only 61 votes. Effectively, that means any governing coalition can alter the law, since 61 is the minimum number of seats for a coalition.
Slamming Bennett and pointing out the relative ease of changing the law, Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog said in a statement, “Laws which do not benefit the citizens at all are being advanced only because of one person who is leading the coalition: Naftali Bennett.”
Passage of the law is one more blow to Trump’s closely guarded plans for a peace process. After Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Palestinian leaders said they no longer saw the US as an honest broker for peace, and they distanced themselves from the Trump administration and canceled meetings with White House envoys.
In the past, Netanyahu has committed to a two-state solution, but walked this back in 2015 when he answered there would be no Palestinian state while he’s in office.
But he has refrained from endorsing any framework since Trump took office.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Netanyahu said, “Our position is Jerusalem remaining a united, safe and secure city. Freedom of worship for all faiths which we guarantee … Palestinians may have a different vision. They should come and negotiate. They say they won’t negotiate; they’re walking away from the negotiation table … again.”
But the Knesset move, led by Netanyahu’s party, has now attempted to remove the Jerusalem issue from the negotiating table, even though Trump said his recognition did not determine Israeli sovereignty over the holy city or contested borders. Both issues have been viewed as final status issues, only to be decided in negotiations.