Tuesday, December 9th, 2008
James Besser in Washington
Here’s the non-surprise of the year: President George W. Bush has once again waived provisions of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act mandating that the U.S. embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Back in 2000 Bush, running for the presidency, promised to begin the move “as soon as I take office,” but then changed his mind, repeatedly invoking the law’s “national security” waiver position.
That put him in sync with former President Bill Clinton, who was also regarded as a strong supporter of Israel – and who nonetheless refused to initiate the move.
Some starry-eyed optimists in the pro-Israel world had hoped Bush would pick up the phone and call in the movers as a dramatic end-of-term gesture.
But most pro-Israel leaders recognize the Jerusalem embassy issue for what it is: a convenient but essentially meaningless promise trotted out by candidates in both parties during their campaigns even though it’s not a real priority for officials here or in Israel.
Israeli leaders haven’t pushed for it because they fear the impact of an action that has taken on huge symbolic meaning on faltering negotiations with the Palestinians; officials in Washington don’t take action because they believe it would be a fatal blow to U.S. credibility as an honest broker in those negotiations and upend relations with friendly Arab and Muslim countries, and because they know major pro-Israel groups won’t go to the mattresses on the issue.
Indeed, Israel didn’t ask for the original 1995 Embassy Act, which originated as part of former Sen. Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, not out of policy considerations.
That doesn’t mean the embassy won’t end up in Jerusalem. There is an almost universal expectation that if there ever is an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, one of the first U.S. actions will be to move the embassy to a city whose status and borders will have been worked out by the parties to the treaty.
Until then, Jewish leaders will continue to demand that politicians promise to move the embassy, politicians will continue to mouth platitudes about the city and its status – and nobody will fuss too much when the embassy stays put because almost everybody understands that this a political charade, not to be taken too seriously.