Amendment to Basic Law on Jerusalem Shakes Up Coalition

Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar proposes that at least 80 MKs would be required to concede jurisdiction in J'lem.

Officially, the government took no stand Wednesday on the matter of amending the Basic Law on Jerusalem, and the coalition allowed its members to vote their conscience. Most Kadima MKs stayed away. In other words: at least for the preliminary reading, the coalition expressed its blessing more than its objection to the bill seeking, ahead of the Annapolis conference, to hobble the government and prevent it from making concessions in Jerusalem. Six ministers backed the bill. Only Labor's ministers voted against it, including Raleb Majadele, who announced the day before in the same place that Israeli law does not apply to the Temple Mount.

Under the amendment, proposed by MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) and 25 other MKs, a majority of 80 MKs would be required to concede any territory or jurisdiction in Jerusalem.

Meretz-Yahad chair Yossi Beilin said that the fact that Sa'ar does not make do with the simple majority of 61 shows that he knows his position has become a minority view. Beilin's statement may be true with regard to the public, but in the Knesset Sa'ar won a large majority of 54 versus 24.

What was the message Sa'ar sought to convey? "Everyone will know from one end of the world to the other, everywhere - in Ramallah, in Washington, in London and in Moscow - that Israel's Knesset expressed its faith in Jerusalem as the eternal capital that is not in dispute."

Beilin said he is troubled by that self-same message: "This government is not worthy of ruling on this issue if it does not take a stand and tell the opposition, 'Do not bind our hands.' I am ashamed of Israel's position."

What are the odds of this bill passing in first, second and third readings? Slim. This government cannot afford it - Sa'ar presumably remembers that in the next term, he could be in a government that has to give up parts of Jerusalem.

In the hour after the amendment passed, it looked like there was no coalition in the land. One after another, the coalition parties dumped coalition discipline, resulting in a series of defeats for the government in subsequent votes on various bills. This was the coalition's first day of defeats since the winter session opened and Kadima's Eli Aflalo took over as coalition chair.

MK Reuven Rivlin of Likud said in response to Wednesday's events that Wednesdays, when bills go to the plenum for preliminary vote, are days that dismantle coalitions. Rivlin recalled that the Likud under Ariel Sharon took advantage of Wednesdays to topple Ehud Barak's government. When Sharon came to power in 2001, he made a point of sitting in the plenum on Wednesdays, to forestall defections. After three defeats, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived in the plenum and spoke with Shas chairman Eli Yishai. The coalition was reestablished. The defeats stopped immediately.