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Israel's Greater Jerusalem Bill: Settlers in, Palestinians out

The bill is an exercise in demographic change through annexation under which over 150,000 settlement occupants would be considered residents of Jerusalem while Palestinian neighbourhoods are downgraded

In recent months, the security and humanitarian situation in Palestine has deteriorated considerably. Palestinian human rights organisations have documented unprecedented settlement expansion, emboldened by the international community's continued hand-wringing in the face of Israel's violations of international law.

Just last week, 176 new settlement units were announced to be built in occupied East Jerusalem. Residency revocations for Palestinians in Jerusalem are on the rise, forcing people out of their lifelong communities.

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And now, the Knesset is considering an unprecedented bill that would annex some of the West Bank's largest illegal settlements to Jerusalem.

Demographic change

Dubbed the "Greater Jerusalem" Bill, it constitutes a de facto annexation of settlements built on occupied Palestinian land and regarded as illegal by international law and the European Union.

Among the settlements included in the bill is Ma'aleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the Jerusalem area and the Gush Etzion settlement cluster. The bill is sponsored by a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right–wing Likud party and enjoys his backing.

We must be clear that the Greater Jerusalem Bill is an exercise in demographic change through annexation. Under the Bill, the settlements' over 150,000 inhabitants would be considered residents of Jerusalem, enabling them to vote in and sway municipal elections.

Palestinians have had their human rights trampled upon systematically throughout the prolonged military occupation. We have lost huge swaths of our lands and had our communities fragmented

It will also downgrade the status of three Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, demoting the status of the approximately 100,000 Palestinians who live there - essentially creating Jerusalem's own Bantustans.

The bill's intention, according to its authors, Israeli Knesset Minister Yoav Kish and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, is two-fold: to increase the proportion of Jews to Palestinians in Jerusalem to ensure Jewish dominance of the city, and territorial expansion.

Katz openly expressed his intention for the bill to "ensure a Jewish majority in the united city and to expand its borders by adding 150,000 residents to the area of a greater Jerusalem," adding that it would serve to challenge all who question the Jewish people’s right to the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of a Jewish homeland.

Netanyahu voiced his support for the bill in October, indicating that the bill will pass quickly and with the government's blessing.

The East Jerusalem neighbourhoods of Ras al-Amud (R) and Silwan (L) (REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

De-facto annexation

Demographic engineering is in clear violation of international law, as it uses manipulation of the makeup of the civilian population to accomplish political goals. Currently, Palestinians make up nearly 40 percent the population of Jerusalem.

If the bill passes, the addition of settler populations into Jerusalem's census will reduce that percentage to 32 percent. It is a sinister way of ensuring that Jerusalem is washed of its Palestinian identity and, by extension, Palestinian rights and interests, while still calling itself democratic.

Enacting laws that are anti-democratic or violate international law, however, is not a rarity for Israel. This January, the Knesset passed a law that retroactively legalises Israeli outposts built on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

We have been warning for years that Israel's actions amount to de-facto annexation

International calls to abandon the "Regularisation Law" proved futile as the Knesset rapidly moved to pass it.

Palestinian human rights organisations, including my organisation, the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC), are concerned that the Great Jerusalem Bill could face an eerily similar fate with public outcry and condemnations proving to be little more than lip service that only delays the inevitable.

Palestinians have had their human rights trampled upon systematically throughout the prolonged military occupation. We have lost huge swathes of our lands and had our communities fragmented. We have been warning for years that Israel's actions amount to de-facto annexation.

With the passage of the Greater Jerusalem Bill, our warnings would become a codified reality.

Genuine action

This should sound an alarm to European officials. Not only do these actions undermine UN Security Council resolutions and EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, they erode the potency of international law as a whole. More so, they destroy the prospects of peace.

Despite discussions about renewing the peace talks, and the Palestinian reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo last month, measures like the Greater Jerusalem Bill undo any positive steps made toward solving the conflict.

On Sunday, Israel's Ministerial Committee for Legislation delayed its vote on the bill to reportedly allow time for "diplomatic preparation". European officials should seize the time offered by the delay to unequivocally condemn the Greater Jerusalem Bill and spell out the diplomatic consequences of its passage.

This time, we need more than measured consideration and public statements. We need genuine action.

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There are very real steps officials can take to pressure Israel to act in accordance with international law. They include an end to preferential trade agreements so long as settlement activity continues and support for accountability mechanisms.

Given the serious prospect of annexation, the European Commission should immediately halt any discussion about holding the EU-Israel Association Council.

If the international community continues to remain silent in the face of Israeli violations, it will be very hard to undo the damage being done to the prospects of achieving justice and peace.

European officials must stand tall and take the lead to stop the Greater Jerusalem Bill. 

- Issam Aruri is the General Director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC). He is a founding member of the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), which is a coalition of 140 Palestinian civil society organisations. Also, he is currently chair of the PNGO Board of Directors and a founding member of the Palestinian Human Rights Council (PHROC), the Coalition for the Monitoring of Public Freedoms, and other Palestinian coalitions.

Photo: Palestinian students return from school to their homes near the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the West Bank village of Al-Eizariya, east of Jerusalem March 1 2016 (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

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