New Law on Jerusalem Continues to Generate Controversy
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New Law on Jerusalem Continues to Generate Controversy

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The Jerusalem Bill which the Knesset enacted into law yesterday continued to generate controversy and polarize opinion in Israel. The main questions today were how this move will affect the already deeply troubled autonomy talks with Egypt and the U.S.; how President Anwar Sadat would react; and what the parents are for the Middle East peace process as a result of what many at home and abroad regard as a deliberate act of defiance by Israel of world opinion.

The Jerusalem Bill, declaring united Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, was one that very few Knesset members could oppose in principle but which many in coalition as well as opposition ranks, considered to be grossly ill-timed and gratuitous.

Geula Cohen of the ultra-nationalist Tehiya faction, author of the original version of the measure, was accused by many of having set out deliberately to sabotage the peace process and the peace treaty with Egypt which she passionately opposed and for which reason she defected from Premier Menachem Begin’s Herut Party.


Some, like Hoaretz’s hawkish columnist Yisrael Eldod, who believes that to implement the peace treaty and the autonomy plan would result in the gradual dismemberment of Israel, said today that if Cohen’s motive was to halt the peace process, he applauded it. “If the Jerusalem law will also slow down the process of stripping Israel of her strategic assets under the cover of ‘peace,’ the price was worth it,” Eldad wrote.

He also maintained that there would be no tough reprisals from Egypt because “getting Sinai without war, free of charge, is worth more to Sadat than Israeli facts in East Jerusalem, whatever he says on the subject.” (See related story from Washington P.3)

In Cairo yesterday, Sadat said the Egyptian response would be conveyed shortly to Begin through Israel’s Ambassador but he did not hint what the response would be. Sadat spoke to reporters after a 75-minute meeting with former President Nixon who went to Cairo the attend the funeral of the deposed Shah of Iran. Sadat said that he and Nixon agreed that the Jerusalem law contradicted the spirit and letter of the Camp David accords. Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali said Egypt was considering whether to suspend the autonomy talks and to withdraw its ambassador from Israel.

(The immediate reaction by the U.S. was cautious. After news of the Knesset vote reached Washington yesterday, State Department spokesman David Passage read a prepared statement to reporters stating that “the United States has consistently taken the position that the final status of Jerusalem can be determined only through negotiations among the parties concerned. It has consistently been our view that the unilateral actions taken outside the framework of such negotiations cannot determine the ultimate status of Jerusalem.”)

Political sources here responded quickly to Sadat’s asse###ion that the Jerusalem law conflicted with the Camp David accords. They noted that Jerusalem is not mentioned in the accords but is the subject of accompanying side letters in which each of the parties–Egypt, Israel and the U.S. — set down their positions on Jerusalem. In Israel’s view, these sources said, the new law on Jerusalem “does not deviate from the position expressed by Premier Begin in his letter to President Carter and therefore there is no place for a new Egyptian reaction.”

The ongoing argument between Israel and Egypt has been over whether the side letters referred to constitute the last word on Jerusalem. Israel insists that they do and has flatly refused even to consider a discussion of Jerusalem’s future status. The Egyptian position is that the fate of Jerusalem must be discussed in the later stages of the autonomy talks. Egypt is highly sensitive on this issue and, as many Israelis noted today, it was the Knesset’s decision to act on the Jerusalem Bill after Cohen introduced it in May that prompted Sadat to suspend the autonomy talks.

The negotiations got underway again last month but the imposes between Israel and Egypt remains. The heads of the three negotiating delegations are scheduled to meet early next week and political circles here are waiting to see what Sadat will do in response to yesterday’s Knesset vote.

The worst that could happen, these circles said, would be another suspension of the talks by Egypt and, possibly, the recall of Egypt’s Ambassador to Israel. Sadat is regarded here as a master of surprises and it remained to be seen whether he would swallow the Jerusalem law as easily as such commentators as Eldad believe.


Moshe Arans, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, said today that the Knesset acted correctly. “It is better to clarify Israel’s stand on Jerusalem now, before we have withdrawn from the last part of Sinai, than do it after the withdrawal, ” he said.

Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, a Labor MK, expressed a different view. He recalled that ever since Jerusalem was united in 1967, Israel’s stress was on creating a new reality there–a unified city with hundreds of thousands of Jewish residents, large-scale construction sites and the protection of the holy places of all faiths. At the same time, Israel sought gradually to bring world opinion to accept the new reality. Now, with the passage of the Jerusalem law, Israel tells the world that it, itself, is not sure about that reality, Eban said.

If Israelis hope that the crisis engendered by the Jerusalem law will subside in the coming weeks, such hopes apparently are in vain. Begin is going ahead with his plans to move the prime Minister’s Office to East Jerusalem, despite heavy pressure from the U.S. for restraint. And Cohen, flushed with victory, is preparing a new bill for the Knesset which would impose Israeli law on the Golan Heights–in effect annexing that occupied territory.

Meanwhile, the Knesset late last night approved a new clause in Israel’s anti-terror law providing a jail sentence for anybody hoisting the Palestinian flag, singing the anthem of the Palestine Liberation Organization, publicly identifying oneself with Palestinian terrorist groups or shouting slogans in support of those organizations.

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