Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Basic Law: Jerusalem, 1980

We've been declassifying documents about Jerusalem in 1967. Yesterday, July 30th, was the anniversary of the 1980 Basic Law: Jerusalem.

Israel has no constitution - an interesting story for another day. What it does have, however, are a series of Basic Laws, which are intended cummulatively to make up a constitution, eventually. As the previous documents in this series have shown, at the time of the secret discussions in 1967, Menachem Begin's position was often decisive on the question of Jerusalem: where all his ministerial colleagues agreed that unified Jerusalem must be under Israeli sovereignty and must be the capital, Begin stood out in his insistance this should be declared openly and clearly. At the time, his position was not always accepted. Perhaps it's not a coincidence, then, that when he was prime minister and at the head of a coalition grounded by his party, he took the most declarative step possible, and enacted a Basic Law whereby: united Jerusalem is Israel's capital and is the seat of government; the religious freedom of the various denominations and their access to their holy sites will be preserved; and the government of Israel will take steps to ensure the development of the city.

Neither the legal status of the city nor the reality on the ground seem to have been changed by the enactment of this law, since previous laws had already achieved the same goals with lesser fanfare. In response to the legislation, the UN Security Council on August 20th 1980 passed resolution 476, which directly censured and rejected Israel's law. The resolution passed by 14 votes, with the United States abstaining. Where the Israeli law had been entirely declarative, the UNSC resolution had one practical implication. It called upon the few countries which still maintained embassies in Jerusalem to remove them, and most did. (The last two, Costa Rica and El Salvador, were removed in 2006).

In 2001 the Basic Law: Jerusalem was modified and paragraphs 5-7 were added. These determined the specific line defining Jerusalem; that no section of Jerusalem could be transfered to any foreign power; and that this law itself could be changed only by enacting a contravening Basic Law by a full majority of members of Knesset (and not be a simple majority of MKs who might be in the Chamber at the moment of enactment). These additions, obviously, were the result of the Oslo Process and its failure, and were intended to ensure that any future change to the status of Jerusalem or any part of it be the purposeful decision of a solid majority of legislators, not a decision by the government.

The city line cited in the 2001 addition to the law is the line defined back on June 28th 1967.

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