Obama Again Chooses Friday Afternoon to Renew the Jerusalem Embassy Waiver

By Patrick Goodenough | June 7, 2011 | 4:33 AM EDT

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, which is Israel’s second largest city but not its capital. (Photo: Lorenia/Flickr)

(CNSNews.com) – When President Obama last week invoked the regular six-month waiver to bypass U.S. law mandating that the American Embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem, the notice was released on Friday afternoon, a common time for the White House to “dump” material that ends up drawing little media attention.

The ritual notification to Congress came at a time when the administration is on the defensive over concerns voiced by some pro-Israel Americans that Obama is moving away from decades of strong bipartisan support for the Jewish state.

Congress in 1995 passed a law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and stating that “the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.” An inbuilt waiver authority allowed the president to postpone the move, in the interests of “national security,” for consecutive six-monthly periods.

Reflecting the strong level of support in the U.S. for Israel and for Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Embassy Act passed 374-37 in the House and 93-5 in the Senate.

President Clinton was not enthusiastic about the legislation, which he warned “could hinder the peace process.”  He allowed it to become law, but without his signature.

Should the Jerusalem embassy not be opened by May 31, 1999, the law stated, the State Department would be barred from spending 50 percent of the funds allocated to buy and maintain official properties abroad during that fiscal year.

The due date came and went, and then on June 17 Clinton issued the first “Suspension of Limitations Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act” notice.

President Bush continued the policy every six months, to the continuing frustration of pro-Israel lawmakers who argued that the intent of Congress was for the waiver would only be justified in the case of a genuine security threat.

In the latest of numerous Capitol Hill attempts over the years to press the issue, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) last March introduced the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2011, which removes the waiver authority from the 1995 law, and calls for the embassy to be moved to Israel’s capital “as soon as possible, but not later than January 1, 2013.”

Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on June 4, 2008, then Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” (Photo: AIPAC)

It also calls for the U.S. government to identify Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in official documents.

Thirty-five lawmakers from both parties co-sponsored the bill, which has been referred to the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.


A striking difference between Obama’s waiver notifications and those of President Bush is that in Bush’s case, he inserted into the legal jargon a sentence stating, “My Administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.” The phrase appeared in all 16 Bush waiver notifications.

Clinton did not include those or similar words in his notices, and after Obama took office, he dropped Bush’s wording. (Compare a Bush notice with ones released by Obama and Clinton.)

Obama has now issued five waiver notifications, with four of the five released on Fridays. (The exception was on June 2, 2010, a Wednesday.)

Of the 16 times Bush invoked the waiver during his two terms, four were released on Fridays (Dec. 14, 2001, Jun. 14, 2002, Jun. 13, 2003 and Jun.1, 2007). Most were typically released on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

Clinton invoked the waiver four times between June 1999 and December 2000 – twice on a Friday and once each on a Monday and Thursday.

Obama’s latest announcement was welcomed by Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh. The official P.A. news agency, Wafa, said he called it “encouraging and … consistent with President Obama’s vision of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.”

Obama’s stance was proof that neither the U.S. nor the world recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Rudeineh told the agency.

“The world has made it clear that East Jerusalem has been occupied since 1967 and that it is the capital of the State of  Palestine in the framework of the two-state solution.”

Presidential candidates supportive

Israel insists that Jerusalem is its “eternal, indivisible” capital, a claim it says dates back some 3,000 years, to the reign of the biblical King David from the city. Historians note that while Jerusalem was fallen under the control of many empires and powers, no nation other than the Jews ever declared it its capital.

The Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

“Jerusalem is the crux of the question of Palestine and the key to war and peace in the region,” the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission to the United Nations declares on its Web site.

Critics dispute a Palestinian historical claim, noting for example that the PLO’s bedrock covenant, adopted in 1964, makes not a single reference to the city.

Jerusalem is not mentioned by name in the Qur’an. The Islamic claim to the city is based on the belief that Mohammed flew on his winged steed, al-Buraq, from “the sacred mosque” in Arabia to “the farthest mosque” en route to heaven (sura 17, the Qur’an).

The “farthest mosque” later became identified with Jerusalem. The al-Aqsa {“farthest”) mosque, located where the biblical Temple once stood, is considered the third most revered site in Islam.

Like those of most other countries the American Embassy in Israel is located in Tel Aviv, a political decision reflecting the disputed claims to the city.

Over the past decade and a bit, presidential hopefuls from both parties, including Bush, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John McCain, said while campaigning that they supported relocating the embassy to Jerusalem in line with the 1995 law.

Obama was an exception, although he did tell the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2008 that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” (Amid an Arab outcry, the senator for Illinois backtracked hours later, telling CNN, ““Well, obviously, it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations.”)

Since taking office Obama has clashed with the Israeli government several times over the city, particularly over housing construction in some eastern suburbs of the city, which the administration refers to as “settlements.”

Israel has never accepted the notion that any part of Jerusalem constitutes a settlement – the term generally used to describe towns and villages built by Israelis on territory it captured from Jordanian and Egyptian control in 1967.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow