Israeli Bill could undermine peace talks

Bill requires super majority in Knesset to discuss future of east Jerusalem

Justice minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in the peace talks, vowed to fight the move and appeal the decision within the full cabinet. Photograph: Gali Tibbon/Getty

Justice minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in the peace talks, vowed to fight the move and appeal the decision within the full cabinet. Photograph: Gali Tibbon/Getty

Tue, Oct 22, 2013, 01:00

Middle East peace efforts have received another setback following the decision by an Israeli ministerial committee to support a Bill requiring a special majority of Knesset members in order for the government to even begin negotiations on relinquishing any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

The ministerial committee on legislation voted 5-4 to support the Bill, which would require 80 out of the 120 members of Knesset parliament to vote in favour of any decision by Israel to discuss the future of Palestinian neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem, captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day war.

Some judicial commentators raised doubts over the legality of such a move, bearing in mind that Jerusalem is one of the core issues to be discussed between Israel and the Palestinians in the peace talks that resumed in August.

The Bill was supported by right-wing ministers, including from prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, but opposed by the two dovish parties in the coalition, Yesh Atid and Hatnua.

Justice minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in the peace talks, vowed to fight the move and appeal the decision within the full cabinet.

“It is unacceptable and shocking that members of the government destroy the right of the government to determine the interests of the state, and make a decision that says the government is not responsible for the diplomatic interests of Israel.”

The position of Mr Netanyahu will be crucial, but the prime minister’s office made no comment on the vote.

Mr Netanyahu has spoken repeatedly against conceding any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, but will be reluctant to endorse any move that could derail the peace talks.

Any decision by the prime minister to bury the Bill will reinforce suspicions among his own rank-and-file that he indeed is seeking a deal that includes re-dividing Jerusalem.

Knesset member Yaakov Litzman, an ultra-Orthodox member of the opposition, said he initiated the Bill to hold Mr Netanyahu to his promise.

“This Bill is intended to hold him to his promise to keep Jerusalem united.

“The message of the Bill is clear: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and is outside of any negotiations.”