JERUSALEM (Jul. 30)
The Knesset today approved the “Jerusalem Bill” by a vote of 69-15 with three abstentions, thus incorporating it into Israel’s Basic Law. The law states that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that it is the seat of the President, the Knesset, the government and the Supreme Court. It also assures free access to the holy places and their preservation. A separate clause assures special treatment to Jerusalem by government agencies, as well as a special annual allowance to the city.
This clause states that the government will attend to the development and prosperity of Jerusalem and the well-being of its inhabitants by allocating special resources through on annual grant to the city to be approved by the Knesset Finance Committee. Another statement inserted in the original bill stipulates that state institutions will give Jerusalem special priority in their economic, financial and other operations. A special body, or bodies, would be set up to implement these objectives.
The Knesset Legal Committee introduced a last-minute change in an amendment agreed on earlier this week; According to an amendment introduced by the Labor Alignment representatives in the committee, one clause would state that “the customs practiced by the various communities within their holy places would remain inviolate.”
However, at the request of Premier Menachem Begin, that clause was voted on again and changed for fear it might prevent future praying by Jews on Temple Mount, where it is presently forbidden and would encourage strife between sects such as the Copts and the Ethiopians who for years have bad a conflict over a part of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Instead, the committee approved a generally worded clause which ensures the protection of the holy places and free access to them.
The final version of the bill was worked out in the Legal Committee following a compromise between the government coalition and the Labor Alignment. The Alignment insisted on introducing as many as possible practical proposals into the text of the bill, most of them suggested by Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. The coalition tried to keep the text as general as possible on the grounds that basic laws should not descend to specifics.
Kollek, who attended all four meetings of the committee, was influential in working out the compromise. He said he was gratified at the guarantees on unhindered worship and free access to holy places, but he was dissatisfied that the operational elements he had demanded were watered down.
THE IRONY OF IT ALL
The irony of it all is that the bill, which kept the Knesset busy for the last few weeks, was actually forced upon the majority of the Knesset by MK Geula Cohen of the ultra-nationalist Tehiya faction, one of the smallest factions in the Knesset.
Although the vast majority of the Knesset felt that passing this law at this time was unnecessary at best and perhaps even damaging politically, the majority voted in favor. The most common argument was that any vote against the bill would be interpreted worldwide as an internal debate over the fate of Jerusalem–which did not exist.