JERUSALEM, Israel - The importance of Jerusalem in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people may soon be fortified by a new law granting Israel's capital the highest national priority status.
On Sunday, the Knesset's Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs unanimously approved a bill that will prioritize residential and public construction in Jerusalem, including disputed neighborhoods such as those in the capital's eastern sector.
The bill's sponsor, National Union MK Uri Ariel, said the legislation will birth "the beginning of a new era in Jerusalem and a sign of things to come," effectively ending the unofficial "building freeze in the capital" and ensuring the city's demographic balance in the future.
Two Labor MKs - Isaac Herzog and Shalom Simhon - and two Likud MKs - Bennie Begin and Gideon Sa'ar - all of whom voted for the bill - recommended a three-week postponement to further develop the legislation. In the end, the committee opted not to delay its approval.
The bill also grants priority status to a broad cross-section of areas that impact the city's development.
Among other benefits, the bill will make housing, infrastructure, education, employment, business, tourism, and cultural events more affordable by offering grants and tax benefits to the city's residents.
Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, one of the 45 Knesset members who endorsed the legislation, said the bill sends "a clear, unequivocal political message that Jerusalem will not be divided."
The Palestinian Authority envisions Jerusalem's eastern sector as the capital of its future state.
"All those within the Palestinian and international community who expect the current Israeli government to accept any demands regarding Israel's sovereignty over its capital are mistaken and misleading," Kahlon said.
Dissenting voices included Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) and MK Haim Oron, chairman of the ultra-left-wing Meretz party, who decried what they perceive as "Judaizing" Jerusalem.
Tibi said granting Jerusalem national priority status makes it evident that the Israeli government "supports settlements and annexation and is throwing sand in the eyes of the international community."
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed the initiative.
"The formal recognition by the Knesset and the government regarding the need to strengthen Jerusalem is critical for the city's future and for the continuation of the positive momentum in it," Barkat said.
"The decision will help to advance the transformation of Jerusalem as an attractive place for young people, tourism and investors," the mayor said.