Israeli lawmakers move to keep hold of East Jerusalem

Israel’s parliament gave preliminary approval on Wednesday to legislation that would make it more difficult to give up parts of Jerusalem in any peace deal with the Palestinians.The vote, two weeks before a U.S.-led conference on Palestinian statehood, underscored the problems Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could face in rallying his diverse coalition around any future compromise aimed at resolving one of the most divisive issues of the Middle East conflict.

The proposed bill stipulates that amendment of a 1980 law that declared all of Jerusalem Israel’s “complete and united capital” would require the approval of 80 of parliament’s 120 legislators, instead of 61 under current rules.

Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move that has not won international recognition, as the capital of the state they aspire to establish in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The new legislation, which won preliminary approval from 54 lawmakers, including members of Olmert’s coalition, was proposed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud opposition party.

Before being passed into law, it must be approved by a parliamentary committee and go to three more votes — a process that could take months.

“(Preliminary) passage of the legislation, two weeks before the Annapolis conference, sends an important and clear signal to the entire international community that all of the people of Israel and parliament oppose concessions in Jerusalem,” said Gideon Saar, the Likud lawmaker who sponsored the bill.

Olmert has appeared to suggest Israel could hand over outlying Palestinian areas of Jerusalem under a peace deal. His deputy, Haim Ramon, has said Israel should be prepared for talks on dividing Jerusalem in return for peace.

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