Kafe Knesset for December 6
Official White House Photo by D.E. Hansen
Jerusalem is holding its breath: Excitement is building ahead of the Presidential address on Jerusalem this evening, but the Israeli PM is waiting to see what exactly will be said before celebrating. Immediately after his phone call with POTUS yesterday, Netanyahu ordered all of his aides and cabinet ministers not to make any public comments on Jerusalem or the Embassy, and explained that this was a US request. Netanyahu did not mention a word on Jerusalem even during a public appearance at the annual Diplomatic Conference sponsored by the Jerusalem Post, instead giving a dynamic TED-style talk about technology, with some Iran warnings thrown in for good measure.
On his way to the Knesset, the PM could not hold back his excitement and gave a Facebook BBTV live video in which he said “Our national, historical identity will be significantly recognized today.” Netanyahu had a packed schedule of events for this afternoon, but cancelled it all “so he can be free and focused on the President’s speech,” according to one of the PMs aides. Some of the ministers could not restrain themselves from anticipatory comments. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Bayit Yehudi’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked all expressed enthusiasm and thanked President Trump at the Jerusalem Post conference. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, however, said he is waiting to see what Trump says. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said Jerusalem is Israel’s capital regardless of what anyone says, and what is more important is that the people who live there – Jews and Arabs – learn to coexist peacefully.
United or not: While the world is in a frenzy awaiting US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, another potential hurdle to the ultimate deal could be coming up soon. The Knesset is slated to hold the final vote on the “United Jerusalem bill,” which states that any change in the status of the capital will require the approval of a special majority of 80 Knesset members, rather than the ordinary majority that the law would require today. The law creates an almost impossible political hurdle for any prime minister who will want to negotiate with the Palestinians about the status of Jerusalem and effectively prevents the possibility of negotiating – or dividing- the city. The bill was initiated by Bennett and was approved in a preliminary reading in July, and on Monday, a final vote is planned in the Knesset plenum. Since it is a change to the Basic Law, a majority of 61 MKs is required to vote, and the bill has been placed on the agenda for an intense marathon voting day planned for next week. However, a senior political source said told Kafe Knesset that it might eventually be postponed, depending on the content of the President’s declaration today.
Another problem in getting a 61 MK majority is that coalition chairman David Bitan is under investigation for alleged corruption and has lost his usual singular focus on whipping up votes. Bitan’s deputy is scandal magnet Likud MK Oren Hazan, who is insisting that he be given coalition chairman responsibilities when Bitan is incapacitated. But Likud insiders say he was only given the deputy post “for educational purposes,” and that Netanyahu will not appoint Hazan as the coalition chairman.