Powell's Jerusalem Comment Reverberates in Middle East

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Nearly a week after Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Arab nations continue to blast Washington for the remark.

Despite a speedy State Department clarification that U.S. policy on Jerusalem had not changed, governments throughout the Middle East have continued to warn Washington of "disastrous consequences" should the U.S. or any other nation move its embassy to Jerusalem - Israel's unrecognized capital.

At a House committee budget hearing last week, Powell was asked whether the administration intended to fulfill President Bush's campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

He replied that Bush was committed to moving "the embassy to the capital of Israel, which is Jerusalem."

"The United States, Russia, the European Union, all countries in the world, as well as international and regional organizations, should expect disastrous consequences for the region and for the interests of all the countries of the world in the region, if embassies are moved to Jerusalem," warned Esmat Abdel Meguid, secretary general of the Arab League in Cairo on Monday.

The "unified national command" spearheading the Palestinian uprising called for a general strike this Thursday to protest against the U.S. administration's position regarding Jerusalem, among other things.

The ad-hoc body comprises representatives of the Palestinian Authority as well as other militant organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Calling Powell's statements "concerning and worrying," the unified command said in a statement that the stance "violates the supposed neutrality" of a country sponsoring negotiations.

Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abul Ragheb told lawmakers that Jordan rejected such statements, which he said would "lead to more tension and complications."

Raising the issue at this time is a "violation of international legitimacy as much as it is an abuse to the peace process," he said.

Jordanian lawmakers also criticized Powell's statement and called for an Arab and Muslim boycott of U.S.-made products.

The government of the United Arab Emirates issued a statement on Monday saying Powell's position could "increase the dangers faced by the region." It warned of "terrible consequences" on regional stability and on ties between the U.S. and Arab-Muslim countries.

The UAE Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to extend a diplomatic protest.

Kuwait, Qatar, Iran and Syria were among other countries that lashed out at Powell, who visited the region last month for the first time in his new post. The administration is attempting to revitalize the crumbling anti-Iraq coalition, to keep Saddam Hussein in check.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reiterated on Monday that the U.S. policy remained the same and that "the status of Jerusalem is a matter to be resolved between the parties."

Jerusalem is one of the most contested issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1967, Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem - which had been occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 - and reunited the city under its sovereignty.

Israel maintains that the city will remain its undivided capital, always. But the Palestinians want the eastern part of the city, including the ancient Old City, to come under their control and become the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Former President Bill Clinton pledged in two successive presidential campaigns to move the embassy to Jerusalem. He received overwhelming bi-partisan support in Congress in the form of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, but managed to avoid the relocation by citing national security concerns.

Opposition to such a move surfaced again last summer when Clinton suggested in a television interview that it might take place soon. The Islamic terrorist organization Hizballah - linked to Beirut embassy bombings in the 1980s - threatened to blow up the embassy and send home the diplomats in body bags.

Bush, who pledged during his campaign to start the process of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem immediately upon taking office, has chosen cautious words, referring to Jerusalem as the "city Israel has chosen as its capital."

"The Secretary was describing the practical situation on the ground," Boucher said of Powell's comment. Israel's parliament and seat of government are located in Jerusalem.

Only two small nations, Costa Rica and El Salvador, recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and have their embassies there.