Israel's parliament, in the face of formidable international opposition and a possible suspension of the middle East peace negotiations, voted 69 to 15 tonight for a bill perpetuating all of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.
The government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin braced itself for an onslaught of accusations that Israel has precluded any negotiated settlement of the ultimate status of the predominantly Arab eastern sector, East Jerusalem, captured by Israel during the 1967 war.
The vote is likely to strain Israel's relations with the United States and jeopardize President Carter's major foreign policy achievement, the peace settlemen between Israel and Egypt signed at Camp David in 1978.
Israeli and Egyptian negotiators already are struggling in negotiations over an autonomous status for the nearly one million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River -- including 100,000 Arab inhabitants of East Jerusalem. The talks on the issue have ground to a virtual halt and could be suspended because of tonight's action.
That action is also likely to further isolate Israel at a time when European nations appear inclined to reduce their diplomatic contact with Begin's rightist Likud government in favor of their own peace initiative outside of the framework of the Camp David process.
The bill, which gained strong support from the opposition Labor Party alignment, was introduced in the parliament as a symbolic statement of Israel's resolve to keep Jerusalem unified perpetually as its capital.
But many of its advocates considered it more than that.
It was adopted as a "basic law," meaning that ultimately it will become part of Israel's constitution. The 32-year-old state of Israel does not now have a constitution, but basic laws, such as the one passed tonight, are regarded as the cornerstones of a national charter and, in effect, as inviolate.
U.S. diplomatic sources said the Jerusalem law, coupled with Begin's plan to move the prime minister's offices to East Jerusalem -- both symbolic gestures reasserting Israel's sovereignty over the entire city -- could trigger a suspension of the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations on proposed autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The sources said the Israeli steps could also affect U.S.-Israel diplomatic communication, since Ambassador Samuel Lewis does not have the authority to make official calls to East Jerusalem. The United States does not recognize Israeli sovereignty there.
The Carter administration is particularly concerned about the Jerusalem law's impact on the autonomy talks because of the intense U.S. efforts to resuscitate the negotiations. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat suspended them in May following the introduction of the Jerusalem bill. A U.S. source said that if Sadat halts the talks again, it is not certain they can be revived.
Soon after its introduction, the Jerusalem measure became known as "the bill with the least support and the most votes," because parliament members immediately realized that it would be political suicide to oppose a stand on which there is such a broad national consensus.
Begin is known to have told intimates that in the midst of the delegate negotiations with Egypt, he did not need the bill but that he could not afford to oppose it.
Opposition Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, who normally votes almost reflexively against Likud-supported legislation, said it an interview Monday, "I was against the bill being introduced, but I can't vote against it because I'm basically in favor of it."
To defeat the bill, Peres said, would suggest to critics abroad that Israel's position on Jerusalem is unclear, and would encourage foreign pressure for negotiations on the ultimate status of the city. It is widely assumed that the bill's sponsor, Geula Cohen, was motivated in part by a desire to embarrass Begin and call attention to her tiny Tehyia (renaissance) faction as even more steadfast in defending Israel's security that Likud.
Cohen, who in the preindependence struggle against British authority in Palestine was a broadcaster for the underground Stern Gang, split with Begin's Herut Party over the Camp David accords. She has been a demonstrative critic of Begin and once heckled so loudly during an appearance in the Parliament by Begin and President Carter that she was ejected by ushers.
Cohen's measure further irritated Begin because his Justice Ministry had quietly been working on a basic law, to be sponsored later by the government, which would reaffirm that Jerusalem is Israel's indivisible capital.
But as soon as Cohen made her move, it was clear that Begin would not oppose it. Recently, his declarations about Jerusalem left no doubt that he had given tacit approval even at the risk of jeopardizing the peace talks.
To the embarrassment of Sadat, Cohen introduced the bill on May 14, just as Sadat was in the middle of a four-hour speech to the Egyptian People's Assembly, in which he announced he was acceding to a request by Carter to resume the suspended negotiations. A week earlier, Sadat had broken off the talks after a fruitless round of talks in Tel Aviv.
The day after the assembly speech, Sadat again suspended the talks, citing the Jerusalem bill. On April 1, the Egyptian parliament had passed a bill declaring Jerusalem the eternal capital of Palestinians and one of the most revered holy sites of Islam.
Beyond the question of its ultimate sovereignty, Jerusalem had emerged as a critical issue in the autonomy talks because of the 100,000 Arabs who live in the eastern sector captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
Israel insists that since the annexed East Jerusalem 18 days after the Six-Day war, the Arab sector is not part of the West Bank. This stance makes the city's Arab inhabitants ineligible to vote in elections for the proposed autonomous council envisioned in the Begin autonomy scheme. Egypt insists the annexation was illegal and East Jerusalem Arabs are West Bank residents.