Census in East Jerusalem: A compromise in the making
Palestine-Israel, Politics, 12/10/1997
For the first time since 1981, the Israeli Knesset was called in to ratify a government decision to prevent Palestine from conducting a census in East Jerusalem. In 1980, it was then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin who convened the Knesset to pass the Golan Law in which Israel unilaterally annexed the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and introduced by force its own laws on the Syrian residents.
In addition to most of the coalition members who supported the move to block the census, the opposition Labor Party too decided to side with the decision though it aired harsh criticism at the way the Israeli government brought the issue to a vote. Labor chairman Ehud Barak said the decision of the Israeli government to bring the matter to the Knesset deliberations was the "childish act of an amateur." Yet, he said his party decided to support the decision in order "to maintain the unity and the consensus among Israelis that Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel."
The Israeli government was determined not to allow Palestine to conduct its census in East Jerusalem, claiming that it is in violation of the Oslo accords and that it undermines Israelıs self-declared sovereignty in the city. Israeli law stipulates that the state is allowed to prevent Palestinian activity in Jerusalem when it pertains to issues of assembly and representation. Since the census falls under neither of these categories, the government has decided to pass a new legislation that will entitle the state to block any Palestinian activity that it finds offensive.
Palestinian officials however avoided talking about the matter in public. Senior Palestinian officials said they wouldnıt carry out the census within Jerusalemıs borders, but hinted that work is going to continue silently without having to go into an open conflict with the Israeli government.
Dr. Hassan Abu Libdeh, head of the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, said that it is not written in any place that it is forbidden for the Palestinian government to take count of residents living in Jerusalem. The Palestinians decided to begin the census on Tuesday to mark the tenth annual anniversary of the outbreak of the Palestinian intifida against Israel, but work officially started Wednesday and is expected to last two weeks, during which all Palestinians living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and apparently East Jerusalem will be counted. According to Palestinian officials, at least 3,600 counters will move among Palestinian homes in order to count the residents, and carry out a survey of apartments, education and income.
Senior Palestinian officials said they are preparing to find alternative, roundabout means of counting East Jerusalemıs Arab population in order to avoid a crisis with Israel. The preferred method as they see it is to carry out a ³population survey² instead of the census, using students who will appear to be collecting information for academic purposes. Such activity is not illegal, even according to Israeli laws and if adopted, it would serve both the Palestinians in maintaining accurate figures on the Arab population in East Jerusalem and the Israeli government which can claim it did not succumb to Palestinian pressure.
According to the Israeli Knesset law, any government decision seeking a parliamentary ratification has to be presented to the Knesset at least 24 hours before the voting takes place. But intensive contacts took place in order to change the phrase and allow the Knesset to summarily pass the decision in its three readings. Yet, loopholes in the Israeli law and the lack of automatic consensus among Knesset members delayed the voting which was said to last through the late hours of the night. This kind of rapid legislation is extremely rare. The last time it was employed was in 1981 when in one day the Golan Law was passed on the initiative of Menachem Begin.
The rapid and dramatic legislative initiative began Tuesday evening under the Prime Ministerıs direction after it became apparent that the Interior Ministry cannot prevent the Palestinian government from carrying out the census in East Jerusalem. The reason, according to the Gaza-Jericho Agreement which was authorized by the Knesset, Israel does not have the power to do as such. This conclusion was made clear during a meeting of senior officials from the Prime Ministerıs office, the police ministry and the Shin Bet, as well as with Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein.
Population in the Palestinian territories
Census preparations at peak, Israeli police on alert
New Palestinian census causes clash over Jerusalum
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