Israel’s demographic game in Jerusalem
In its scheming ingenuity, Israel’s government will not cease its efforts to hammer nail after nail into the coffin of a final-status deal with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution. One facet of these attempts is manipulating the demographic balance between Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem.
As the incompetent era of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, engulfed in corruption allegations, looks increasingly likely to end sooner rather than later, his ultra-right partners in the government coalition are setting the tone. It is mainly a jarring tone led by Naftali Bennett, leader of the HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home) party and his ilk.
They exploit their power over government institutions and legislation to reduce the possibility of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. By entrenching the occupation and marginalizing the Palestinian population, they suppress Palestinian aspirations for self-determination while depriving them of basic rights.
Jerusalem has a special constitutional status in Israel’s law, which asserts that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.” Any change in the city’s legal status requires the support of an absolute majority of 61 members of Israel’s Parliament.
To prevent East Jerusalem from ever becoming the capital of an independent Palestine, a new amendment to the Jerusalem Basic Law, sponsored by Bennett, states that dividing the city requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The possibility of this, and thereby the two-state solution, is almost nil.
To add insult to injury, this new amendment, which has already been given preliminary approval by Parliament, will also remove two Palestinian communities, the Shuafat camp and the neighborhood of Kufr Aqab, from the municipality of Jerusalem. Both are already separated from the city by the so-called security wall, and if this bill becomes law, Israel is arbitrarily stopping 140,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites from being residents of the city.
It is estimated that this will increase the Jewish majority in the city to 70 percent, guaranteeing their control of the municipality. In addition, it has raised suspicion and fear among these communities that this is the first step in taking away their Jerusalem ID cards. As minimal as the benefits are from holding these cards, it is still more than their West Bank compatriots enjoy.
In the same vein, Israel is plotting to enable the residents of some Jewish settlements around Jerusalem — such as Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev and Gush Etzion — to vote in the city’s local elections without becoming part of the municipality, to ensure that it is in complete control of Jerusalem and only Jews can decide who the mayor is.
Only a delusional government can convince itself that a peace deal can be reached without recognizing parts of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. This Israeli government combines deliberate obstructionists to peace with those who are detached from reality.
Over five decades of occupation, Palestinians have been severely restricted spatially as they are gradually surrounded by Jewish settlements and even encroached upon by new Jewish neighborhoods. In the last few weeks, the Palestinian Shamasne family, who reside in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, received an eviction order for the benefit of settlers.
In Jerusalem, Israel wants to have its cake and eat it, again and again. Pretending that the city is united under Israeli law, it is not applied equally to its Palestinian inhabitants, who are treated as second-class (sort of) citizens. One of the first acts by Israel after the occupation of 1967 was to declare both sides of the city the “united and eternal capital of Israel,” applying Israeli law to a much more extended area of East Jerusalem than under previous Jordanian rule. This annexation, which is not recognized by the international community, also entailed residents of the newly defined East Jerusalem being forced to be part of Israel.
But Israel never intended to bestow full citizenship rights on them, only the status of permanent residents. East Jerusalemites are only allowed to vote in local elections, not national ones, and are prevented from holding Israeli passports. Worse, their residency can be revoked if they reside outside the city for a certain length of time.
When it comes to building permission, they can only watch with sorrow the expanding Jewish neighborhoods in close proximity and the enormous investment in their infrastructure, while their needs are deliberately and hardheartedly ignored. This manipulative social and legal engineering by Israel’s government in Jerusalem is telling about its lack of sincerity in reaching a just solution to its conflict with the Palestinians.
Only a delusional government can convince itself that a peace deal can be reached without recognizing parts of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. This Israeli government combines deliberate obstructionists to peace with those who are detached from reality. Both are almost equally dangerous.
• Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.