Israeli lawmakers vote to set high bar for ceding parts of Jerusalem

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s parliament on Wednesday passed the first of three votes needed to enact legislation that would set an extra-high threshold for any future vote on ceding parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

The proposed amendment to the Jerusalem Basic Law – defining the city’s legal status – could pass into law later this year.

It states that at least 80 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers would have to vote in favor of any proposal to hand over parts of the city to “a foreign party”.

The status of Jerusalem is seen as one of the main stumbling blocks in U.S.-led efforts to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that have been frozen since 2014.

Israel declared the city its “eternal and indivisible capital” after capturing majority-Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexing it, a status that is not recognized internationally.

Fifty-one lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, which holds 67 seats, voted for the amendment. In all, 41 deputies opposed it.

The two additional votes could take place after parliament returns from its summer recess in October.

Roughly two thirds of Jerusalem’s population of some 900,000 is Israeli and about one third is Palestinian.

Israel has expanded the city’s boundaries and built urban settlements for tens of thousands of citizens, interspersed among Palestinian neighborhoods.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent state, together with the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Some opposition left-wing lawmakers have proposed re-drawing Jerusalem’s boundaries to exclude some Palestinian neighborhoods that they say have no connection to Israeli society and should be part of a future Palestinian state.

Wednesday’s vote was passed during one of the most tense periods in years in Jerusalem, as Palestinians protest heightened Israeli security measures near the Temple Mount-Noble Sanctuary compound, one of the city’s holiest sites.

Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by John Stonestreet