Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Israel's Early Diplomatic Struggles
President Chaim Weizmann Opens the First Knesset

Armistice Agreements with Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan

Armistice Agreement with Syria

Prime Minister Ben-Gurion on Jerusalem and the Holy Places

Transferring the Knesset and Cabinet to Jerusalem

Annexation of the West Bank by Jordan

Foreign Minister Sharett on the Situation with Syria--1951

Glossary of Israel's Founding Parties and Personalities

About Major Knesset Debates

Major Knesset Debates -- Contents



Transferring the Knesset and
Cabinet to Jerusalem

Sitting 96 -- 13 December 1949


As had been anticipated, the U.N. General Assembly, by an overwhelming majority, adopted a resolution calling for the internationalization of Jerusalem. In a mood of defiance, the Knesset approved the Government's proposal to transfer the Knesset and the Cabinet to Jerusalem.

Sitting 96 of the First Knesset

13 December 1949 (22 Kislev 5710)
Tel Aviv, Knesset Building

The Speaker, J. Sprinzak: ...I beg the Knesset Members' indulgence for the slight disorder which has affected this sitting. We are all aware of the reasons for this. This disorder is intended to set several matters in order. Although it is our task to be precise, both in content and in form, there are certain exceptions to this rule. I give the floor to Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister, D. Ben-Gurion: Mr. Speaker, distinguished Knesset, a week ago I made a statement here on behalf of the Cabinet regarding Jerusalem. Our statement is still in effect; no change has been or will be made in our attitude.

As you know, the U.N. Assembly has meanwhile decided, by a large majority, to place Jerusalem under international rule as a separate body. This resolution cannot be implemented, if only because of the firm opposition of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It is to be hoped that the U.N. will correct the mistake the majority has made this time and will refrain from trying to impose government on Jerusalem.

We respect the desire of countries interested in freedom of worship and free access to the holy places, and which seek to assure existing rights in this respect in Jerusalem. Our undertaking to preserve these rights is still in effect, and we will adhere to it gladly, although we cannot support the enforced division of Jerusalem, which unjustifiably discriminates against the natural, historical right of the Jewish nation.

Ever since the Provisional Government was established our concern for the peace, security and economic welfare of Jerusalem was foremost among our activities. During the war, when Jerusalem was besieged, the Cabinet was obliged to sit temporarily in Tel Aviv. But Israel had and has only one capital--eternal Jerusalem. Thus it was three thousand years ago, and thus it will be--we believe--forever.

As soon as the fighting ended we began transferring Ministries to Jerusalem and making the arrangements necessary for a capital city--proper roads, technical and economic arrangements....When the First Knesset convened in Jerusalem on 14 February 1949...the necessary arrangements to enable it to function normally in the capital did not yet exist, and we had to hold the Knesset sittings temporarily in Tel Aviv. Now that the necessary arrangements have nearly been completed in Jerusalem there is no longer any reason why the Knesset should not move there, and we propose that you decide to do so.

Naturally, this does not alter any of the previous arrangements concerning the holy sites, which will be fully respected by the Government of Israel, or concerning its agreement for their effective supervision by the U.N., as this Government has stated at the U.N.

The Speaker, J. Sprinzak: We have heard the Prime Minister's statement. The party factions may make announcements of no more than ten minutes.

J. Sapir (General Zionists): Mr. Speaker, I expressed my reservations in the Committee and asked to be permitted to propose a debate in the Knesset.

The Prime Minister, D. Ben-Gurion: We propose that if factions wish to say something in connection with this statement they may do so. The debate on foreign policy will be held soon, however, as will be determined by the Knesset or the Cabinet, or by both of them, but not by this statement.

The Speaker, J. Sprinzak: We will return to the agenda.

M. Begin (Herut): Who is returning to the agenda? Is the Cabinet's proposal sufficient to return to the agenda?

The Speaker, J. Sprinzak: We will vote, then, on MK Joseph Sapir's proposal that we hold a debate.

Y. Bader (Herut): Oh, you religious people! Is this the way you show your concern for Jerusalem?

Z. Warhaftig (Religious Front): It would be better if Jerusalem were ours, even if we did not talk about it!

The Speaker, J. Sprinzak: Knesset Members, kindly do not speak while the vote is being taken.

The Vote

Those in favor of MK Sapir's proposal 27
Those against 59
(The proposal is not adopted.) 

Y. Ben-Aharon (Mapam): At one of the gravest moments for Israeli policy, we regard it as our duty and privilege to support the Government in its actions and policies designed to assure Israel's sovereignty over undivided Jerusalem, repelling the attempt to detach Jerusalem from the body of the nation and the renewed state.

This is a grim day in the Jewish nation's struggle for its homeland. We could have expected that the great sacrifice, the heroism and the young blood which was shed like water in Jerusalem and its environs would prove to the world once again that the connection going back two thousand years between the Jewish people and the capital, Jerusalem, is unchanged. We could have expected that the fact that the residents of Jerusalem and of the entire state stood as a living wall when the whole world and all the institutions of the U.N. abandoned Jerusalem, and that the Jewish people saved Jerusalem from destruction not only for itself but for all mankind would be noted....But if we are obliged to carry on by political means what we started with our bodies and our souls, we will not be deterred! We will support every effort by the Government to repel internationalization and any other similar plan....

At the same time, we regard it as our duty to stress certain points and draw the attention of the Knesset and the Cabinet to certain issues. First of all, we must demand...that the present division of Jerusalem and the fact that invading forces are in part of it, and particularly the ancient, historical part, will not be recognized by us. To the best of our knowledge, the battle against internationalization, against severing Jerusalem from the body of the nation, cannot take place without a battle against the division of Jerusalem, demanding the return of the entire city to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. on the Government of Israel to refuse to cooperate with any U.N. institution or body involved in the plan to internationalize Jerusalem....It is not by declarations or administrative acts alone that our objective will be implemented but by establishing large development projects in Jerusalem forthwith, thereby increasing its population and establishing its status in an appropriate way....

We would be happy if we could absolve the Government of Israel and its foreign policy of all responsibility for the grave event which occurred at Lake Success...but this is not the case. Above all, we must call on the entire population, not only the Government, because this is a testing time for us, and warn it not to be led to think that in the battle which awaits us our protagonist is the U.N. It is not our task to glorify the bitter fate of our current isolation in the world. We do not come to heap our wrath on the nations and exult in enmity. Israel shall not dwell alone, and it is not by xenophobia or racism that we shall advance our cause or strengthen the state....Even in times of dispute with established foes, and especially with friends who stood beside us at the establishment of the state and the War of Independence, Israel was not alone. That is why we will summon up all our strength in order to break this circle, deepen friendship and undermine this unity against us. An Israel which seeks progress, peace and construction...will not remain friendless. Our striving for peace while standing firm on the issue of our rights in our homeland will bring our pioneering youth to the fore from within, and they in turn will win us friends on the international front. The enlightened world will yet rejoice with us in the national undertaking we are deciding on today, namely, incorporating Jerusalem within the State of Israel and establishing it as our political center and capital.

M. Begin (Herut): Distinguished Speaker, the Prime Minister announced that the full debate on his government's foreign policy would be held soon; but this statement concerning its inadequate and doomed policy, and the associated vote, does not solve the problem. The Government's statement requires an immediate and full debate. This statement contains an extremely grave clause, which in effect annuls the only positive step this Government--albeit at a fatally late stage--was about to take, namely, transferring the principal institutions of government to Jerusalem.

The Government statement avers that we will accept what it calls "effective U.N. supervision" of the holy places in Jerusalem and Israel. If we translate that fancy phrase into the language of political reality it means that although the Government will meet in Jerusalem, and the Knesset will hold its debates there, they will both sit under the shadow of a foreign ruler whom we have invited to Jerusalem and all Israel of our own free will.

Because of the Government's policy we are now involved in the most serious crisis we have known, and one which was not necessary. The list of mistakes made by the official leadership, under its various names and throughout its protracted existence, regarding Jerusalem, is extremely long in comparison with the mistakes it has made regarding our political life. Its original sin was to grant official recognition to the severing of Jerusalem from the body of the state, when foreign rule of Jerusalem was incorporated in a statement issued by the U.N. and in the ensuing resolution.

A week ago the Prime Minister told us that the U.N. resolution of 29 November 1947 is no longer valid. That was some consolation...but we have no control over the resolutions of the U.N., and although that body is not accustomed to implementing its resolutions it does renew them. If the Prime Minister adhered to the truth he would have had to announce that our agreement to foreign rule in Jerusalem was no longer valid; but he did not do so, and this could constitute what the classicists call "the hand of Nemesis."

Thus the delegates from Australia, the U.S.S.R. and other countries told our representatives at the U.N.: You agreed to international rule in Jerusalem! Was not Jerusalem sacred to you two years ago, were there not one hundred thousand Jews there then, and did they not have the right to self-determination then?

You could say: if the U.N. decided to establish international rule, it should have implemented it; since it did not, the resolution is invalid. This reasoning convinces us but not the world, which says, simply: we did not manage to implement our resolution in 1947, let us try and do so in 1949.

That is your original sin, and now we are all paying for it, because you officially and openly relinquished Jerusalem as our capital, as an inseparable part of Jewish sovereign land.

You also sinned against the nation's holy of holies, the Old City of Jerusalem. Within the limitations of the statement I am permitted to make I cannot furnish the documents--which are in my possession--proving that we could have...liberated the Old City....

But this is not all. It has been declared here that Jerusalem is the capital, while on the other hand the Government identifies completely with the statement made by our delegation at the U.N. But what was that statement? After the impressive speech of the Lebanese representative, Mr. Sharett rose and spoke on your behalf, on our behalf, quoting what had been said by Abdullah, by the mayor of Nablus and by the mayor of Bethlehem, namely, that anyone who harmed the areas they controlled would suffer. Then Malik from Lebanon said: "As a Christian I demand that you internationalize Jerusalem, because there is a grave danger that Jerusalem will be divided up for the first time in its history. And that is what that man, Mr. Sharett, aims at doing." And no one protested that.

When I speak to you of these things, Knesset Members, I speak as a Jew to his brethren. This is not a party or factional issue. Open your hearts! Do not stop up your ears! This is what our delegate to the U.N. said: "I have received an urgent cable from my government saying that King Abdullah participated demonstratively in morning prayers at the AlAksa mosque, generally known as the Mosque of Omar, in the Old City. His personal priest said: You have heard many rumors about internationalization. Do not be afraid, trust the king, who has declared that he will cut off the hand of anyone who tries to deprive us of one inch of our land. We will not let foreign forces play with the fate of the city!"

No one but the Foreign Minister of Israel said these things in front of the representatives of the nations. Is it any wonder that all your talk of the sanctity of Jerusalem is not heard by the nations? How did we become completely isolated? You did not leave anyone any choice....The only alternative you left was for the high priest, Sir Alexander Cadogan, to rise and bless the accord about to be made between you and King Abdullah and his personal priest.

Do not stop up your ears! This is one of the gravest moments in our history. It is not a matter for a show of hands, whether there is a debate or not....They have abandoned the nation's holy of holies and ask us to keep quiet and wait until the agreement is signed, so that the Old City may continue to be controlled by Abdullah and his terrible minions.

Your third sin against Jerusalem was that you missed every opportunity to determine it as the capital of Israel. At the previous sitting of the Knesset we demanded that it be laid down in our Transition Act...that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. There was uproar in the plenum. You did not dare remove the proposal from the agenda and decided to transfer it to the Constitution Committee. Nine months have passed since then. At almost every Knesset sitting we asked you to decide about Jerusalem. What were you afraid of? What were you waiting for? You foiled every attempt to do so. The members of the religious faction helped us, as did those of the Sephardic faction....But you said: We do not want to enter into conflict with the U.N. And what is the result? There is conflict. You decided to proclaim the sanctity of Jerusalem after it had been decided that Jerusalem was not ours. You brought our nation into the gravest conflict with the representatives of the entire world.

...We will support the proposal that the Knesset and the Cabinet should move to Jerusalem. It is too little too late, but we will support the proposal which we demanded should be implemented many months ago. The whole nation should know, however, that if we find ourselves in an impasse, if we are isolated on every side, if all our allies have betrayed us, if all that is left for us is to try and move to Jerusalem after a serious resolution has been passed, all this is the fault of this Government's feeble and disabling policy.

J. Sapir (General Zionists): Mr. Speaker, distinguished Knesset, a week ago, from this podium, we declared our intention of not being deterred by any resolution to sever us from Jerusalem, and that any attempt to prevent us proclaiming Jerusalem as our capital would meet with the continuous and stubborn resistance of the entire nation.

The U.N. decision to internationalize Jerusalem obliges us to take our stand in practice as well as in theory, in order to stem this undesirable development, and we must proclaim Jerusalem to be our capital immediately. We maintain that transferring the Cabinet and the Knesset to Jerusalem without any legislative act cannot, in the present circumstances, satisfy the needs aroused by the U.N. resolution, and provide an appropriate answer to it.

Since it has been decided not to discuss the Government's foreign policy or the issue of Jerusalem here today, we will not speak at length about the severe damage which has been inflicted on our foreign policy and political position. A crucial link in the chain of our political achievements...has been severed. Since we are discussing the statement about Jerusalem we are circumspect in our use of language, but when the full debate on the matter is held we will not hesitate to point out all the mistakes made by the present Government.

We consider it necessary to state today that despite the decision to transfer the proposals to proclaim Jerusalem our capital to the Constitution Committee, our proposal, namely, that "The capital of Israel is Jerusalem," should be incorporated as the first clause of the constitution, simultaneously with the Government's statement. We think that the demonstrative value of the Government's statement...will not be complete without that legislative act....We are not ignoring the gravity of the situation created by the U.N. resolution or the possibility that we may have to defend our capital by force, mobilizing all our physical and emotional strength, but we know that the entire nation will stand with us, willing to pay the price....

Regrettably, I must say that the Government's statement cannot conceal the fact that it is greatly overdue and arrives at a time when political tension is higher than in the past. That is why we regard it as of particular importance that the Government statement be supplemented by an immediate constitutional decision regarding Jerusalem the capital. The particular concentration of powers against us on this issue requires us to be constantly on our guard....

I would like to note that our agreement to the Government's practical decisions cannot be interpreted as acceptance of certain facts or of foreign rule over part of Jerusalem. We support any plan to define Jerusalem as our capital and aid its development and expansion.

We advocate an information campaign to gain world opinion, and counteract the lack of understanding about us in the U.N. and the world. We believe that the Almighty will not fail Israel, and that the will of the nation throughout its dispersions, as well as of the entire nation that dwells in Zion, will serve as a firm guarantee for the fulfillment of the aspirations of generations that all Jerusalem shall be ours, in our hands, under our sovereignty and our one and only capital.

M. Wilner (Maki): Distinguished Knesset, it is regrettable that there is no general debate on Jerusalem and the Government's foreign policy today, because that would enable the Knesset to reveal to the nation all the reasons for Israel's complex and grave political situation in every sphere: foreign policy, the issue of Jerusalem and economic policy.

Many of our sons shed their blood for Jerusalem. In a recent sitting the Prime Minister reported how many soldiers fell in the battles fought by the IDF for Israel and Jerusalem, letting it be known that many of those who rant and rave about Jerusalem did not make the greatest sacrifice on the battlefield.

One factor, however, was not mentioned at all among all those which contributed to our victory...namely, the extensive and valuable aid granted by the camp led by the U.S.S.R. That is an historical fact and the lesson taught by contemporary events. Even at that difficult time, when we forged the road to Jerusalem with our bodies and defended the city with the help of the U.S.S.R. and the people's democracies, those who analyzed the forces in the U.N. correctly knew that they did not favor our cause, that they contained imperialists who sent their armies against us as well as progressive forces which had always helped the Jewish nation.

J. Serlin (General Zionists): Which raised their hands against Jerusalem.

M. Wilner (Maki): Which helped, have helped and will help defend the independence of the State of Israel, assuring the welfare of the Jews of Jerusalem.

...How can a just solution to the problem of Jerusalem be attained? By supporting every action, both internal and international...which will remove Abdullah's British cannon from Jerusalem and its environs....It is also evident that any solution of the problem of Jerusalem must take into account the age-old link between the Jewish people and Jerusalem.

The U.N. resolution, as supported by the progressive forces there, is not directed against Israel. Its objective is to remove Abdullah's British army from Palestine. We must adopt a far-seeing policy, preventing any political act which in effect recognizes Abdullah's, i.e., Britain's, rule over the Old City and the rest of Palestine, for as long as that situation holds the security of Jerusalem and of all Israel will never be guaranteed....

The U.N. resolution, if it is not distorted, proposes a temporary arrangement until such time as the self-government by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, with a democratically-elected legislature, as outlined in the resolutions of 29 November 1948...can arise....

Before I read my party's proposal I would like to mention the fact that for some reason certain Government circles...saw fit to negotiate with Bernadotte even after he published his initial proposals to hand Jerusalem over to Abdullah-Bevin....The Jewish population and the inhabitants of Jerusalem foiled Bernadotte's plan....We should remember that well because now that the issue of Jerusalem has been removed from the exclusively Anglo-American framework, those self-same circles are attempting to turn the problem on its head and conceal the main issue from the people, namely, that negotiations are being conducted with Abdullah, that the betrayal of Jerusalem is being prepared...and that Israel is ready to recognize alien rule in the rest of Pales-tine...thereby embroiling our state and the Jews of Jerusalem as well as those of Israel in a political situation which not only does not guarantee peace but will constitute a constant source of instability and insecurity....

A. Bahir (Mapai): I want to know whether you favor transferring the Knesset to Jerusalem?

M. Wilner (Maki): We participated in the Knesset sitting in Jerusalem, as did the representatives of the democratic countries. The representatives of the countries you depend on boycotted it.

In conclusion, I would like to submit my party's proposal regarding Jerusalem:

1. The Knesset will ensure that any solution of the problem of Jerusalem will take into account the living, historical tie between the Jewish people and Jerusalem.

2. The Knesset declares that Israel does not recognize the rule of King Abdullah, the British agent, in the Old City of Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine.

...Israel will support any step taken by the U.N. designed to remove the BritishTransjordanian army from Jerusalem and Palestine, as the best way of assuring peace and security, independence and liberty, and friendship between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and the Middle East.

The Knesset expresses its full support for the war waged by the Arab masses in the rest of Palestine to drive out the invaders--(From the floor: How many of them are there?) Despite your policy, there are a great many of them; it seems that you are too preoccupied with Abdullah to notice them--and establish an independent, democratic, peaceloving Arab state which is friendly to Israel.

3. ...The U.N. decision to establish independent rule by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, under the temporary supervision of a Trusteeship Council, leading to the eventual solution of the problem of Jerusalem through the wishes of its in fact intended to remove the British-Transjordanian invaders who are threatening the welfare of the Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem and to foil the attempts to make the rest of Palestine a base for imperialist aggression....

...We think that this far-seeing approach will ensure the link with Jerusalem, the peace of its Jewish inhabitants, the removal of the imperialist invaders and Jewish-Arab friendship in Palestine and the Middle East, for without the friendship of nations there is no peace or independence, neither for Israel nor for its neighbors.

N. Yellin-Mor (Fighters): Distinguished Knesset, this is not the time to criticize the Government's past policy regarding Jerusalem. The resolution adopted in the U.N. did not materialize from thin air. It is the outcome of a long series of errors on the part of the Government...based on hesitancy and political cowardice.

The Government's decision rectifies the situation to some extent. But we cannot ignore the fact that Jerusalem is still divided and the Old City under alien rule. There can be no peace for Jerusalem through an agreement with the ruler of Amman whose cannon have bombarded our capital and whose British-commanded legionnaires aim their weapons at us.

...The greatness of this hour will be tested by our actions. It is a mistake to think that the varied front seeking to separate Jerusalem from us will crumble as soon as our decision is made known. We will undoubtedly be subjected to increasing pressure, intimidation, and perhaps even sanctions. We will emerge victorious...if we stand firm and united against alien rule in Jerusalem....But any hesitancy, concession or retreat on the part of the Government...will split the nation and undermine its authority to speak for the people....

Thousands of years of Jewish history watch us as the Knesset and the Government are transferred to Jerusalem. May we be worthy of the great tradition of Jewish freedom which Jerusalem symbolizes.... There is no withdrawal from Jerusalem. Jerusalem cannot be divided or placed under total or partial alien rule....Generations of our people fought for this. Let us arise and go to Jerusalem; we will be ready to fight unhesitatingly.

The Prime Minister, D. Ben-Gurion: The form and contents of the statements made here by the representatives of the Herut, General Zionists, Maki and Fighters parties are regrettable, though hardly surprising....I am sure, however, that everyone appreciated what the Mapam representative said, even though they did not necessarily agree with it. His words reflected the conscience not only of his party but also of many who are not represented in this Government, and make up for the things said by the speakers who followed him, and which are best forgotten.

We decided not to hold a political debate now...and I must not reply to the things which were said here and should not have been expressed at this time. The circumstances and the distinction of the event which we are discussing oblige me to pass over most of them in silence. I will note solely that we have witnessed a general concern for the fate of Jerusalem, its links with the State of Israel and our future in Israel's eternal capital. This concern will reach the ears of the entire nation and the whole world.

The Speaker, J. Sprinzak: Knesset members, the House has heard the Prime Minister's statement and those of the factions. Despite the various approaches, it is evident that the Knesset is virtually united in supporting what the Prime Minister has said, and I hereby announce that after Hannuka (the Feast of Lights) the Knesset sittings will be reconvened in Jerusalem (applause)....

(There was no vote.)