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Against the backdrop of right wing discontent with the limitations placed upon settlement construction, the Jewish Home party is planning another move. This move could eventually turn into a trap for Netanyahu, and put him between his electoral base and the US administration. In two weeks’ time, Naftali Bennett intends to propose a new bill, which will require a special majority of 80 MKs in order to change or amend the Basic law of Jerusalem. This law was originally passed by the Knesset in 1980. The law provides that Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel and states that no portion of the city will be transferred to any foreign entity. The amendment, if passed, would make any possibility of dividing parts of the city and transferring them to Palestinian rule practically impossible, and could also terminate any possibility of holding a referendum on the matter.
The question of Jerusalem is a consensus amongst the coalition parties. Bennett believes that the coalition memebers, even the PM himself, will find it very hard to oppose the bill. Especially since Netanyahu is a signatory on an identical bill from 2007, which was initiated by Likud’s Gideon Saar but failed to advance under Ehud Olmert’s coalition. The Jewish Home party wisely copied Saar’s bill, which was also signed by President Rubi Rivlin, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who were all at the time Likud opposition MKs. However, as the US administration is attempting to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the bill essentially aborts the ability to even discuss the status of Jerusalem with the Palestinians, and could prompt the Palestinians to strong reactions. A senior political source told Kafe Knesset that this bill could turn into “a big political hot potato,” as the US might pressure Netanyahu to lay off while his political base and party will be pushing in the opposite direction.
Bennett told Kafe Knesset today that this is a “strategic move” and that he intends to push the legislation in the current Knesset session. “The Trump era is an opportunity to fortify Jerusalem and to ensure that it is the heart of the Jewish people and, as such, is undividable. This bill is aimed at preventing any future situation in which a specific political constellation could lead to dividing Jerusalem. 50 years ago we united Jerusalem and today we need to promise that it will never be divided again.” On the other hand, he was attacked by leader of the opposition Isaac Herzog who said that “Bennett with his own hands is destroying the chances for peace and any process. He is not concerned about the fate of Jerusalem, but only wants destruct the prospect of a political settlement which would secure Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Bennett is not Netanyahu’s only problem these days. The Jewish Home’s opposition to the plan to expand the Palestinian city of Qalqilya has leaked over to Netanyahu’s own Likud party. Now various Likud ministers have also been joining the settlers’ criticism of the plan despite the fact that the Qalqilya plan was approved by the Security Cabinet back in September. Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a member of the Security Cabinet, sent a letter yesterday to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Liberman, claiming that he does not recall the Qalqilya plan being discussed in the September cabinet meeting. This was the meeting in which Liberman’s wide ranging “carrot and stick” program for the Palestinians was approved. Elkin echoed other Likud ministers such as Miri Regev and Yariv Levin, demanding to halt the Qalqilya plan until a renewed cabinet discussion is held. Elkin accused the IDF civil administration of “shaping a new reality behind the backs of the political echelon.” Elkin protested the fact that many Jewish construction settlements were not approved and said that the “government of the national camp cannot accept such a reality.” Netanyahu and Liberman have rejected the criticism so far, but more trouble could be underway, as Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi revealed yesterday that the Palestinians are anticipating construction in five additional West Bank cities – Nablus, Jenin, Tul Karem, Ramallah and Hebron. According to Tibi, Israel has already informed the PA of the plans, as part of the gesture package Israel prepared ahead of President Trump’s visit. Right wing pressure is starting to reach its boiling point just as special envoy Jason Greenblatt heads back to the region, so it appears that the plot is only going to thicken.
Usually, when Israeli scientists and researchers are granted a prestigious prize or athletes win important sport contests, their phone is bombarded by politicians who extend their congratulatory greetings. The Israeli PM is usually very enthusiastic as well. Last year, the PM was quick to phone Israeli Judoka Ori Sasson and congratulate him for winning an Olympic medal. This March, when the Jerusalem based Mobileye was purchased by Intel, he did the same, and boasted on Twitter that the deal is a source of “pride for Israel.” But Netanyahu’s reaction was much more reserved to the Man Booker decision to award Israeli author David Grossman with one of the most important literary prizes in the world. There was no public phone call and no expression of pride. Grossman is the first Israeli ever to win the award, but it took Netanyahu hours to draft a one sentence statement, which said, “I congratulate David Grossman for winning this important international prize, which reflects his ability as a writer and his literary work.” Grossman, a bereaved father who lost his son, Uri, during the second Lebanon war, is one of Israel’s most renowned and admired writers, but he is a staunch critic of Netanyahu and his policies. Grossman is a strong supporter of the two state solution. In 2015, he withdrew his candidacy for the Israel Prize in Literature after It was reported that the Prime Minister tried to intervene in the prize committee’s selection. Adding even more politics to the mix, was the announcement made by Jessica Cohen, the US translator of the award winning novel “A Horse Walks into a Bar,” that she would be donating one-half of her share of the prize to B’Tzelem, the leftist human rights organization. Alongside Breaking the Silence, B’Tzelem is a big no-no for Netanyahu, who is currently promoting various legislation which would undermine these two NGO’s as he claims they aim to hurt IDF soldiers.