Acting to save his government, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made the extraordinary concession Monday to suspend the confiscation of 131 acres in Arab East Jerusalem, an issue that had climbed to global prominence.
The surprising Cabinet decision came after Israeli-Arab legislators in the Knesset threatened a noconfidence vote over the proposed land confiscation - a vote that could have brought down the government.
“They wanted to survive,” government spokesman Uri Dromi said of the Cabinet.
The decision brought deep satisfaction for Palestinians and the Arab world, and depression for much of Israel.
“It seems that the Palestinian, Arab and international efforts have paid off,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
In Israel, the move will undoubtedly spur contentious political debate for weeks about the Rabin government and the opposition Likud Party. Blame will be flung around. If the 1996 election season hadn’t started already, it will now.
And what happens next to Jerusalem - an issue that wasn’t even supposed to surface until May 1996 under the Israeli-Palestinian accords?
“Everything is on hold,” Dromi said. “Everyone is wiser now about what can and cannot be done about Jerusalem at this point. I don’t think the government will take any more decisions that will be controversial.”
It was the first time in Israel’s 47-year existence that the government had reversed a decision to expropriate land in Jerusalem - historically the world’s most foughtover city, site of 20 sieges, two levelings and 11 switches from one ruling religion to another.
Israel annexed Arab East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War. Since then, Israel has confiscated hundreds of acres of land in East Jerusalem and thousands more outside the city in its drive not to cede any part of it. In this recent planned confiscation, Israel wanted the land to build a police station and mostly Jewish housing.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem for their capital. All Arab states have strong religious ties to the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
This is why last month’s confiscation announcement mushroomed to a United Nations showdown last week. At the U.N. Security Council, America used its veto for the first time in five years, on a resolution declaring the planned confiscations invalid.
Members of at least nine Arab states said Saturday that they would meet in Morocco to decide on steps over the planned Jerusalem expropriation. That meeting was suspended after the Labor government’s decision.Israelis “must continue with their commitment not to resort to any measures in the future that would infringe Arab sovereignty,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Karim al-Kabariti.