Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu recently expressed support for a bill that would extend Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries to Gush Etzion and Maaleh Adumim, both of which are currently independent settlements located beyond the green line, about half an hour’s drive away from Jerusalem.The purported reasoning behind this move is two-fold: 1. Jerusalem has too many Arabs 2. It’s a means of unofficially annexing two major settlements, since, under Israeli law, Jerusalem is officially part of Israel.
Leaving aside the legal complexities of whether or not the law would accomplish its second aim, and whether or not Israel should be unofficially annexing parts of the West Bank, the law, as presented, has three major flaws:
- 1. It’s racist.
A Jewish, democratic state is dependent on a Jewish majority, both because, by choosing the law-makers, the electorate shapes the characteristics of the state, and because, there would be something inherently undemocratic about a state based on a culture that is different to the culture of the majority of its citizens.
However, deciding that certain areas within Israel must be more Jewish, and getting involved in the demographic makeup of cities, is racist. In this case, the message is that Jerusalem is not a home for Arabs. This is offensive to the city’s large Arab population; Arabs have been living in Jerusalem for centuries. As a matter of fact, this is a message to all Arab citizens: You are not welcome in our nation’s capital.
- It’s giving up on Jerusalem.
Despite being Israel’s capital, Jerusalem is one of Israel’s poorest cities. It needs more businesses, and more young people and families to stay and to form a new class of working people who boost its economy.
At the moment, Jerusalem has two large communities — ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian — that are reticent about integrating into the city, because they don’t want to cooperate with the Zionist/Israeli government — albeit for very different reasons. At the same time, there are those within the communities who do wish to integrate, but are stymied by a severe lack of educational and other opportunities. To solve Jerusalem’s economic problem by redefining its borders to include the middle and upper-middle class communities that surround it, instead of creating new opportunities for its impoverished residents, is to solve Jerusalem’s poverty problem on paper, while in fact, giving up on Jerusalemites — especially those from the city’s ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian populations.
It is also giving up on the dream of attracting young Zionist Jews, who are not reticent about integrating into the city, to live in Jerusalem and to contribute to its economy. Yes, it is easier to declare that Zionist Jewish middle class suburbs are part of Jerusalem, than to attract Zionist middle class Jews to live in Jerusalem — but Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion are both primarily residential. It’s hard to see how declaring that middle-class residents who live half an hour away from the main city are part of the city would boost Jerusalem’s economy, other than by slightly increasing municipal tax revenue — while also increasing the people who need the services paid for by those taxes.
- It damages the political consensus about Jerusalem.
Despite Bibi’s claims to the contrary, a commitment to a united Jerusalem was part of the Labor Party’s platform in the last election. The mainstream political consensus in Israel, is that, no matter what a final peace deal looks like, a united Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital. Expanding “Jerusalem” to mean some major West Bank settlements damages that consensus; left-wing parties that support a Jerusalem that includes Sheikh Jarakh might be unwilling to support one that includes Maaleh Adumim. This brings Jerusalem and its boundaries back to the table, as land that can be negotiated away for peace – which could ultimately result in a smaller Jerusalem.
Furthermore, although the world might grumble when a new Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem goes up over the Green Line, the majority of their ire is for West Bank settlements, checkpoints, and the humanitarian situation in Gaza. By conflating “West Bank settlements” and “Jerusalem,” by making the former part of the latter, you bring Jerusalem back into focus for the international political bodies and governments that oppose Israel’s policies.
It’s worth thinking twice about whether expanding Jerusalem’s boundaries to areas that, currently, are not considered part of Jerusalem, either by their own residents, or by Jerusalemites, is worth that heavy price.