The U.S. embassy in Israel: Washington’s favorite political game

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Early this month the Orthodox Union applauded the introduction of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 2009, but I’m guessing its pragmatic man in Washington, Nathan Diament, isn’t buying tickets for the new embassy’s opening ceremony.

While the issue of Jerusalem is a serious one and many members of Congress do, in fact feel strongly that keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv is inappropriate, the debate over the embassy’s location has become one of Capitol Hill’s favorite political footballs, as syndicated columnist Doug Bloomfield noted last week.

Bloomfield, the former legislative director of AIPAC, cites a long history of both parties using the issue to score hits on presidents of the other party.

As Bloomfield notes, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kans.) the author of the current legislation, which would remove the waiver authority that presidents of both parties have regularly used since the original law requiring the State Department to move the embassy was passed in 1995, didn’t have the same objections when it was President George W. Bush issuing the waivers.

This time around, Democratic leaders will make sure it doesn’t go anywhere fast – just as Republican leaders did when they had control.  In case it does get passed, President Obama can be counted on to veto it.

The fact is, U.S. policy has always been that the final disposition of Jerusalem is something to be negotiated by the two sides, and that the embassy won’t be moved until that happens.

Is that wise policy? Israeli officials seem to think so; no Israeli government has ever really pushed for a quick move of the embassy.

There is also a recognition in Washington that Jerusalem is an explosive, emotional issue on both sides, and that moving the embassy – even to undisputed West Jerusalem – before an Israeli-Palestinian agreement would inevitably touch off new tensions in the region and compromise America’s role as a mediator.

Long story short: this is legislation that isn’t going anywhere  – nor was it ever meant to.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.