Austrian Minister of Science and the Economy Reinhold Mitterlehner was supposed to meet with Israel’s Science Minister Ofir Akunis next week but announced the cancellation of the meeting because he is not willing to enter eastern Jerusalem.
Mitterlehner was scheduled to arrive on Sunday for a working visit in Israel, and had a scheduled meeting between himself and his counterpart, Akunis, in which the two were expected to discuss cooperation in their mutual fields. Akunis’s office informed the Austrians that the meeting would take place in the Science Minister’s office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. The Austrians then announced that they would not attend a meeting beyond the ’67 borders and are ready to meet in a hotel in western Jerusalem or in the Knesset, in the part of the capital that has been part of the Jewish state since 1948.
Minister Akunis refused to change the venue and said that “Austria will not divide Jerusalem. With all due respect to the Austrian minister, the value of a unified Jerusalem, which has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years, stands above all considerations. The Government Complex in the eastern part of the city is an integral part of Greater Jerusalem—also according to the Jerusalem Law.”
One of Israel’s constitutional laws, a.k.a. the Basic Laws, is “Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel.” It states that Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel. Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court. Item 5 of the law declares: “The jurisdiction of Jerusalem includes, as pertaining to this basic law, among others, all of the area that is described in the appendix of the proclamation expanding the borders of municipal Jerusalem beginning the 20th of Sivan 5727 (June 28, 1967), as was given according to the Cities’ Ordinance.”
Incidentally, the constitutional law also states clearly (item 6): “No authority that is stipulated in the law of the State of Israel or of the Jerusalem Municipality may be transferred either permanently or for an allotted period of time to a foreign body, whether political, governmental or to any other similar type of foreign body.” This suggests that any offers by previous Israeli prime ministers to share Jerusalem with a Palestinian state was illegal.
Kiryat Menachem Begin, named after former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and also known as Kiryat HaMemshala, is a complex of government buildings in eastern Jerusalem located between Sheikh Jarrah in the north, adjacent to Mount Scopus in the east and Ammunition Hill in the west. Government offices in eastern Jerusalem were built after the Six-Day War of 1967. The first building was the national headquarters of the Israel Police, inaugurated in 1973. In the early 1980s, Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Likud) decided to set up government offices near the police headquarters. After his death the area was named after him.
Akonis’ final statement was in keeping with all of the above: “I appreciate Austria, but if I agreed to accept the demand of our guests it would have been as if I agreed to divide Jerusalem, which will never happen. We will not divide Jerusalem, just like the Austrians would not divide Vienna.”
Mitterlehner is a member of the Austrian People’s Party, which is Christian democratic and conservative, with a white collar constituency, traditionally friendlier towards Israel than other Austrian political factions.