The Atom on the Knesset Agenda
First Open Debate in the Knesset on Israel's Nuclear Policy

By Gabi Baron
Yediot Ahronot
February 3, 2000

MK Issam Makhoul (Hadash) made history when he declared: "Israel has 200-300 atom bombs." Minister Ramon, who responded for the government, repeated the statement: "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East."

"It is not the messenger Vanunu who is the problem, rather the policy of all Israeli governments, who have turned this small piece of land into a poisoned and poisoning nuclear waste bin, which could take us all to heaven in a nuclear mushroom," warned MK Issam Makhoul (Hadash) in the Knesset yesterday.

MK Makhoul made history, when he received permission to table a proposal on Israel's nuclear policy, which led to the first open debate of its kind. Members of the Likud, the National Religious Party, Shas and others chose to leave the assembly in protest just as Makhoul started speaking.

MK Makhoul stated, that Israel is in sixth place in the world as far as concerns the amount of high quality plutonium in its possession. "The entire world knows that Israel is a huge warehouse of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, that serves as a cornerstone for the nuclear arms race in the Middle East," Makhoul accused. According to him, Israel has "200-300 atomic bombs."

Members of the Knesset responded with shouts to the speech by MK Makhoul. "You are committing a crime against Israeli Arabs today," shouted MK Ophir Pinnes, chairman of the coalition. "If anyone needed justification why Arab Knesset Members should not be members of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, you just provided it," said MK Yosef Pritzky (Shinui). And MK Moshe Gafni (Torah Judaism) cried: "This is putting lives in danger."

MK Makhoul could hardly tear himself away from the podium, and stood before it shouting at the hecklers: "What are you blabbering about? What I said appears in every newspaper in the world. You're dummies."

Minister Chaim Ramon, who responded to the proposal on behalf of the government, was constantly heckled by the Arab Knesset Members. The chairman on duty, MK Yuly Edelstein, sent the hecklers out one after the other: MK Hashem Mahamid, MK Azmi Bishara and MK Mohammad Kanaan.

Minister Ramon also attacked MK Makhoul: "You are praising 'the messenger Vanunu'? That man was convicted of the worst crimes in the penal code, except for murder. In your view he is a messenger. In the eyes of the court he is a traitor."

Ramon avoided addressing MK Makhoul's concrete statements, and stubbornly repeated for the protocol the main points of the policy concerning the nuclear issue, as it was formed by various Israeli governments. He repeated the statement that "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East," and said that the NPT did not constitute an appropriate response for our region.