It is not yet entirely clear whether the Israeli government will go ahead with its reported plan to move the prime minister's office to East Jerusalem. but the signs grow increasingly ominous that Israel seeks to tighten its hold on this occupied sector, which is mostly Arab. A bill in the Israeli knesset declaring all Jerusalem the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel has been approved in committee and has thus passed a key stage on its way to becoming law. If the process continues, Israle's standing in the eyes of the world will only be damaged further.
Not only President Sadat, who broke off the West Bank autonomy talks because of these developments, is incensed. Israel's friends and supporters abroad are increasingly disheartened by a policy that grows more and more defiant of international law, of the rights of others, and of the views of its Amarican ally. When one considers Israeli settlement policy in particular, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Israel is bent on the forcible annexation not only of contested East Jerusalem but of the entire West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli government knows full well its provocative moves on the status of East Jerusalem put President Carter in a difficult position. Can it be that it is plunging ahead precisely because it feels "protected" by American election politics which inhibit the President from speaking cut? Yet, in the longrange interests of Middle East peace, Mr. Carter has no choice but to uphold a principled US stand. That is that the status of Jerusalem must be decided within the context of negotiations for a final peace settlement, even though any solution agreed upon should preserve Jerusalem as an undivided city.
This has been the consistent US position. In 1967 US representative to the UN Arthur Goldberg said that the US rejected Israel's unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem (as did the UN) and that the city's future had to be settled through negotiation. In 1969, UN ambassador Charles Yost stated explicitly that "the part of Jerusalem that came under the control of Israel in the June war, like other areas occupied by Israel, is occupied territory and hence subject to the provisions of international law governing the rights and obligations of an occupying power." In 1971, George Bush at the UN reiterated the position. It has remained the same since then. To back the position, the US maintains a separate consular office in East Jerusalem.
Israel has never accepted this view, however, and this is why Jerusalem is not a subject of negotiation under the Camp David accords. Yet it is clear that Israel's latest moves -- together with such provocative steps as the expropriation of 1,000 acres of Arab land east of Jerusalem last March -- inflame the atmosphere and threaten to destroy all hope for successful negotiation of the second Camp David agreement. Jerusalem is a holy city not only to Jews but to Muslims and Christians. The Arab nations regard it as one of the three most sacred places in Islamic worship. Surely it is the height of audacity to seek to resolve unilaterally an issue fraught with such religious emotion. To do so is to feed the embers of Arab hatred and make it all the harder in the end to assure Israel's security.
Israle's entire course in recent months has serve only to radicalize the Arabs in the West Bank, increase violence, and undercut the autonomy talks. the question arises: Does Israel really want peace, or is it prepared for an endless round of hostilities in the interests of hanging on to what Prime Minister Begin has erroneously called "liberated" rather than "occupied" territory? Those within and outside Israel who see the moves on East Jerusalem further eroding the chances for peace have to speak out. And, politics or no, this includes the United States.