U.S. Congress and the Jerusalem Syndrome

The congress and the Bush administration are engaged in a kind of election game, Iraq and the Arab- Israeli conflict, with possibly dangerous consequences on the U.S. policy in the Middle East.

While the Republicans are trying to shore up support for the war against Iraq as the main focus of their campaign, the Congress pushed for a law to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The president signed the law; a measure that the administration says would not change its “position regarding Jerusalem “. But no matter how loudly and how often he says that, suspicions apparently are deepened with this new legislation.

The law Bush signed is the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for 2003, which provides $4 billion for American diplomacy to operate worldwide during the fiscal year which started on Oct.1, 2002.

But many here in Washington are privately saying that the President by signing the law, either out of principle or out of desire to win favor from Israeli constituents, has created a monster that is going to be very hard to kill before it haunts the Administration.

Introduced by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) and supported by the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), the law prohibits the use of congressionally approved funds for any US government document that lists countries and their capital cities but does not identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Ever since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza along with East Jerusalem on June 1967, the relocation of the American embassy in Israel has been, not only one of the hottest issues in the American political campaigns, where principles and votes do clash, but has always put the congress at “loggerheads” with who ever in the White House. And for many years, the question of moving the embassy to Jerusalem has been a good example of political divorce from reality.

Past candidates have pledged to make the move, but Presidents have always succeeded in avoiding it. That has been the case since 1967 and specially. The issue gradually started to gain momentum and to take life of its own when Senator Patrick Moynehan, Democrat of New York started pushing the issue in the congress immediately after signing the Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979. Moynehan argument at that time was simply to show a sign of American support for Israel. That is when he testified On February 1984, in front of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee in favor of the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem and Lawrence S. Eagleburger , Under Secretary of State provided the rationale why the embassy should not be moved.

Of all the issues worried the State department, then, the Jerusalem bill had the highest priority. Secretary of State George Shultz engaged in heavy-handed negotiations with the Congress. In a letter to Senator Charles H. Percy, Republican of Illinois, Chairman of the Foreign Relation Committee, Shultz wrote on March 5, 1984 that the move of the embassy would undercut American hopes of being able to broker future Arab-Israeli negotiations in which one of the key issues would be the status of Jerusalem. During that period, the fever of appeasing the Jewish votes had caught up with the Presidential Campaign. In 1984, both Mondale and Hart tried to portray them selves as more loyal to the Jewish state than President Ronald Reagan. To listen to Walter Mondale and Gary Hart, the tow contenders for the Democratic Party nomination in 1984, “you would think the key to electing a president is deciding which would be the first to rent a Hertz truck and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem”, as Jim Fain put it the Atlanta Journal on March 29,1984. And the overall scrambling for the Jewish vote was best described by Anthony Lewis, the staunch supporter of Israel, in his op-ed peace in the New York Times, also on March 29,1984 when he criticized Mondale and Hart pandering for the Jewish votes ” No group or leader wants to be lagging behind another in support for Israel. In private they criticize and disagree as anyone would on political issues. But in public they countenance no disagreement, and any one who finds an Israeli policy less than perfect is likely to be called “anti-Israel”

The Traditional U.S. Position

Ever since the inception of the Jewish State in 1948, the United States has adhered strongly to its policy regarding the disposition of Jerusalem. The United States does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and considers Ease Jerusalem as an occupied territory subject to international law and conventions.

Eleven administrations have maintained that the final status of Jerusalem should be determined through negotiation, not through unilateral actions or through the “creation of facts”. The Truman administration resisted requests by Israeli government that the United States move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In 1953, John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower secretary of states, noted that the United Nations has primary responsibility for determining the final status of Jerusalem. On July 14, 1967, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg declared before a special session of the General Assembly” with regard to the special measures taken by the government of Israel on June 28, 1967, I wish to make it clear that the United States does not accept or recognize these measures as altering the status of Jerusalem”.

The United States reiterated its position on July 1, 1969, when Charles Yost, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council the United States has always considered that Jerusalem enjoys a unique international standing and no action should be taken there without full regard to Jerusalem’s special history and special place in the world community.

On Sept. 25 1971, then Ambassador to the United Nations, George Walker Bush delivered a formal statement on Jerusalem before the U.N. Security Council explaining the official position of the U.S government with respect to Jerusalem. Ambassador Bush specifically endorsed and repeated a previous 1969 statement made by his predecessor, Charles Yost, criticizing Israeli occupation policies in Jerusalem.

During the 1st Camp David, President Jimmy Carter restated the U.S. position towards Jerusalem to both, the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. President Reagan, in his Middle East initiative of September 1, 1982, stated that ” we remain convinced that Jerusalem must remain undivided, but its final status should be decided through negotiations.” In 1990, President George Walker Bush, publicly reaffirmed American’s support for the application of international laws to end all illegal Israeli practices in East Jerusalem.

On May 1995, then the controlled republican Congress passed a law to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Since then the administration invokes a national security waver to avoid having to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

President Bushé who in 2000 campaign supported Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capitalé says that the law will not change the U.S. policy on Jerusalem and the US still officially sees Jerusalem as a “permanent-status issue” to be negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians in a final peace accord.

Still, the new law highlights the American double standard policies in the Middle East. This comes at a crucial time, as the US is fully occupied in trying to build up a strong domestic and international support for an eventual, but unjust military action against Iraq.

In addition, some analysts note that, if carried out, the law would require the US to disregard its previously stated opposition to Israeli’s policies, especially the annexation of East Jerusalem. A provision in the law that in effect recognizes this annexation of East Jerusalem “would go against at least three UN Security Council resolutions” says Stephen Zunes, a specialist in Arab-Israeli issues at the University of San Francisco.

Congress has pressed several administrations to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but this law goes further in several ways. It requires all official US documents to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and calls on the US Consulate in East Jerusalem that deals with Palestinian issues to report to the embassy in Tel Aviv é rather than directly to Washington, as it currently does. “It’s the most clear-cut legal maneuver to date towards recognizing Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.” Says Zunes. The question is; would the administration be able to keep avoiding the issue? William Quandt, a Middle East specialist on the National Security Council under President Carter, says congressional provisions like those on Jerusalem “cannot force the hand that does not want to be forced.”

For both, the Congress and the White House, it is the mid-term election season, that is the time where votes are much more important than principles.

Abdellatif Rayan, a Journalist and Consultant, contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN).