Jerusalem has been one of the most dramatic issues of discord between the will of the American people and Congress on the one hand, and State Department-driven presidential policy on the other hand.
In contrast to most Americans and their state and federal representatives, who cherish Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of the Jewish state, all U.S. presidents have embraced Foggy Bottom’s denial of Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital, or even as part of Israel. Moreover, the U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy has disavowed the 1947 non-binding U.N. General Assembly Partition Plan, but for one segment — Jerusalem, which the U.N. designated as an international city.
Israel is the only country in the world whose (3,000 year old) capital is not recognized by the State Department and by the presidents of the U.S. However, the American people consider Israel to be the second most trusted and dependable ally of the U.S. (after Britain), and 71% support (and 9% oppose) Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital.
President Barack Obama has gone further than any U.S. president in implementing the Jerusalem policy of denial. He is pressing for an unprecedented construction freeze in Jerusalem beyond the 1949 ceasefire lines, and is trying to eliminate any reference to “Jerusalem, Israel” in present and past official documents and communications.
On the other hand, Jerusalem has earned the affection of the American people since the arrival of the pilgrims in the 17th century, who viewed the U.S. as “the modern day Promised Land,” establishing many towns with biblical names, including Jerusalem. There are now at least 18 U.S. towns called Jerusalem and 32 called Salem, the initial, biblical name of Jerusalem (Shalem), meaning wholesomeness, divine, and peace.
While the American affinity with Jerusalem has cemented the unique covenant between the U.S. and the Jewish state, the State Department never viewed Jerusalem as part of the Jewish state. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman followed Secretary of State George Marshall’s policy, pressuring Israel to refrain from annexing any part of Jerusalem and to accept the internationalization of the ancient capital of the Jewish people. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, inspired by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, opposed the relocation of Israel’s Foreign Ministry from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and prohibited official meetings in Jerusalem. In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson adopted the Jerusalem policy of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who opposed Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence. Johnson highlighted the international status of Jerusalem, and warned Israel against the unification of, and construction in eastern, Jerusalem. In 1970, President Richard Nixon collaborated with Secretary of State William P. Rogers in attempting to repartition Jerusalem and to stop Israel’s plans to construct additional neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.
However, the presidential pressure was short-lived and ineffective due to the defiant Israeli response, which benefited from overwhelming congressional and public support of Jerusalem as the eternal, indivisible capital of the Jewish people.
In 1995, Congress decided to implement the will of the people, passing overwhelmingly (93-5 in the Senate and 374-37 in the House) the Jerusalem Embassy Act. It stipulated the recognition of unified Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, a presidential national security waiver, which was introduced into the bill by Senator Bob Dole with the support of Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin, has enabled Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama to avoid implementation.
In 1999, 84 senators realized that the national security waiver was misused by the White House, and that kow-towing to Arab pressure radicalized Arab expectations and belligerence. They attempted to leverage the co-determining and co-equal power of the legislature and to eliminate the waiver provision. But, they were blocked by Clinton and by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
In 2012, the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties should heed the historical will of Americans, synchronizing the White House and the State Department with the reality that Jerusalem is Israel’s indivisible capital. Still, the success of such an initiative requires Israeli leaders to resurrect the steadfastness and defiance which characterized Israeli prime ministers from David Ben-Gurion (1948) through Itzhak Shamir (1992).
Originally published at http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=1946
About the Author: Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is consultant to Israel’s Cabinet members and Israeli legislators, and lecturer in the U.S., Canada and Israel on Israel’s unique contributions to American interests, the foundations of U.S.-Israel relations, the Iranian threat, and Jewish-Arab issues.
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