USA pressure behind delay in vote for 'Greater Jerusalem Bill'


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a decision to postpone a vote on a controversial bill that critics say would amount to the de facto annexation of Israeli settlements surrounding Jerusalem, an official said Saturday.

But the Israeli official said on condition of anonymity that the bill needs "diplomatic preparation", declining to elaborate further.

The bill aims to solidify the city's Jewish majority, but stops short of formal annexation, making the practical implications unclear.

Intelligence and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who has pushed for the bill, says it would add an additional 150,000 people to Jerusalem's population, strengthening its Jewish majority.

Israel's hard-line government has been emboldened by the Trump administration's more sympathetic approach to Israel and its settlement enterprise than that of President Barack Obama, and the draft bill is part of a series of pro-settler steps the government has taken in recent months. It was a signal that Netanyahu was under pressure not to move forward from the White House, which has been seeking ways to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

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The diplomatic efforts, along with U.S. opposition to the bill, led to a delay of a ministerial vote on the legislation that was planned for the beginning of the week. "As we have been coordinating with them until now, it is worth [continuing] talking and coordinating with them".

On Monday, the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper reported that a senior United States official told the daily that the Trump administration is continuing to work with Israel and the Palestinians towards reaching a peace agreement, but will not impose a deal on the two sides. David Bitan, chairman of Netanyahu's governing coalition, told Israel's army radio on Sunday that "there's American pressure that says that it's a case of annexation".

Trump has sent an envoy, Jason Greenblatt, to attempt to breathe life into moribund peace talks, which collapsed under USA tutelage in 2014. Nor does he demand the establishment of a Palestinian state, breaking from two decades of US policy. It has approved the first new West Bank settlement in two decades and greenlighted the construction of thousands of new homes. Israeli leaders on both the left and the right maintain that the largest settlement blocs in the West Bank will become part of Israel via land swaps under any future peace deal.

The worldwide community is widely opposed to settlement construction. Israel occupied the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, in the Six-Day War of 1967.