Jerusalem Embassy Move Only A 'Question of Time'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - President Bush signed a waiver Monday to once again delay the move of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, to Jerusalem for at least another six months.

Israelis remain confident that the U.S. will eventually make the move, but a U.S. delay means a delay in other countries setting up their embassies in Jerusalem. Many believe that the relocation of the embassies could be seen as a show of support for Israeli control of the city. Control over the city of Jerusalem remains one of the most contentious issues in the Israeli-PLO conflict.

The delay came as Washington criticized Israel for temporarily detaining the Palestine Liberation Organization's top official in Jerusalem for planning to hold a reception in the city after it was banned.

Citing the security situation, Bush sent a memorandum to Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday, saying that he is still committed to starting the process of moving the Embassy to Jerusalem.

\plain\f2\fs23 "I hereby determine that it is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States to suspend for a period of six months [the implementation of the] Jerusalem Embassy Act," Bush wrote in the memo to Powell.

"My administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem," he added.

Arab nations as well as the Palestinians have expressed their strong opposition to a moving the embassy, which they say would be de facto U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the entire city.

Nevertheless, the Jerusalem Embassy Initiative, dedicated to bringing international embassies to a united Israeli Jerusalem, downplayed the presidential postponement on Tuesday and said that it's only a matter of time before the embassy will be moved.

"American presidents are constantly delaying this issue even though it is a law," said advisory board member Rebecca Weinberger. Moreover, she said, it is just a "question of time" before the U.S. embassy will be moved to Jerusalem.

Weinberger said the current crisis situation between Israel and the Palestinians could not be used as an excuse for the waiver.

"The situation didn't used to be like this," she said. "It is conditional on a particular view not on the situation."

According to the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support, the U.S. Embassy in Israel was to have been moved to Jerusalem by May 1999. But then President Clinton invoked a security clause, signing an optional six-month waiver for national security reasons. The waiver has been extended every six months since then.

Bush pledged as part of his presidential campaign to begin the process of moving the embassy as soon as he took office, but postponed the move when it came time for the waiver to be renewed in June.
The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Tuesday about the extended delay.

But a source in Jerusalem said that Israel understands that a decision has been made in principle to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

"When it happens Israel will be happy about it," he said.

Some observers say that all eyes are on the U.S. regarding this move. They believe that if the U.S. would move its embassy to Jerusalem, many other countries would follow suit.

But two weeks ago, following a weekend of bloody suicide attacks in Israel, the United Nations General Assembly called for, among other things, the end of the presence of a handful of embassies in Jerusalem.

Three tiny Latin American countries have their embassies in the city: Costa Rica, El Salvador and Bolivia.
The resolution, adopted by a majority of 130-2 with 10 abstentions, deplored the transfer of diplomatic missions to Jerusalem and called the Israeli administration of the whole city "illegal and therefore null and void."
Costa Rica, the first country to move its Embassy to Jerusalem, said it is staying put.

An embassy spokesperson, who preferred not to be named, said on Tuesday that it is the Costa Rican policy to have its embassies in the host country's capital. If Israel decides Jerusalem is its capital then that is where the embassy will stay, she said.

"We don't have to go into the decisions of the countries," she said. "So we stay in the capital."

The Embassies of El Salvador and Bolivia were not available for comment.

Tensions In the City

In another sign of just how delicate the situation is Washington criticized Israel for banning the top PLO representative in Jerusalem, Sari Nusseibeh from holding a reception for the Id-al-Fitr feast.
"Israel needs to focus on the repercussions of the actions it takes," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Nusseibeh was taken away for questioning after arriving at the Imperial Hotel where the reception was to have been held.

Later, Nussiebeh said he had only been given the order banning the event 15 minutes before it was supposed to have started. He said he had only gone to the hotel to apologize to the 150 guests, including some 20 diplomats, who had gathered for the event.

Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau said the reception had been banned because it was "nationalistically motivated."

Divided by barbed wire from 1948 between Israel and Jordan, Israel united the city under its sovereignty in 1967 as a result of the Six-Day War, claiming the city as its "eternal, undivided capital." The Palestinians want the eastern section of the city to become the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Most countries have never recognized Israeli sovereignty over the city. More than a dozen withdrew their embassies in 1980 when Israel enshrined its claims in law.

See earlier story: Bush Opts To Delay Jerusalem Embassy Move, June 13, 2001.