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The Embassy Should Be Moved, Mr. President

May 31 will mark the second anniversary of the date set by federal law for the United States Embassy in Israel to have been relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Thus, the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 provides that, ‘the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.’ However, shamelessly claiming a recurring six month ‘waiver power’ that simply does not exist, President Clinton routinely violated this clear and unequivocal legal mandate so as not to irritate the Palestinians he was so eager to cultivate. It is time that President Bush end the charade and decline to invoke the bogus waiver authority on his watch. Not only because he promised during the campaign that he would order the embassy to be moved promptly upon his assuming office. And not only because it is only right that the US acknowledge its closest ally?s choice of capital city. But because the law also requires it!

To be sure, we here at The Jewish Press are not the only ones who took note of the two year anniversary. E-mails to the President to move the embassy abound on the internet. Yet they invariably urge the President to act on policy grounds. This is, of course, a very powerful basis. But to lose sight of the legal imperative is to dismiss the overarching issue of fealty to the rule of law.

In all modesty, The Jewish Press, in an editorial termed ‘brilliant’ by the Forward in its July 16, 1999 issue, broke the story of President Clinton’s violation of the 1995 embassy law.

As noted, under that law, the American embassy now located in Tel Aviv had to have been relocated to Jerusalem – which Israel has established as its capital – by May 31, 1999.

But the law also provides the President with a six month ‘waiver authority’ granting him certain powers of ‘suspension’ if ‘he determines and reports to Congress…that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.’

President Clinton, citing the threat he perceived to the Oslo peace process by moving the embassy given the vehement objection of the Palestinians, regularly invoked the waiver/suspension provision. But the waiver provision does not relate to the requirement that the embassy must be moved. The waiver requirement relates to the sanction imposed for not moving the embassy!

Here, in pertinent part, is what the law says:

SEC. 3. TIMETABLE.

(a) STATEMENT OF THE POLICY OF THE UNITED STATES.–

(1) Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected;

(2) Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and

(3) the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.
(b) OPENING DETERMINATION.– Not more than 50 percent of the funds appropriated to the Department of State for fiscal year 1999 for ‘Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad’ may be obligated until the Secretary of State determines and reports to Congress that the United States Embassy in Jerusalem has officially opened.
* * *

SEC. 7. PRESIDENTIAL WAIVER.


(a) WAIVER AUTHORITY.–(1) Beginning on October 1, 1998, the President may suspend the limitation set forth in section 3(b) for a period of six months if he determines and reports to Congress in advance that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.

(2) The President may suspend such limitation for an additional six month period at the end of any period during which the suspension is in effect under this subsection if the President determines and reports to Congress in advance of the additional suspension that the additional suspension is necessary to protect the national security interest of the United States.

(3) A report under paragraph (1) or (2) shall include–

(A) a statement of the interests affected by the limitation that the President seeks to suspend; and

(B) a discussion of the manner in which the limitation affects the interests….

Plainly, Sec.3(a) declares that the embassy must be removed, no ifs, ands, or buts. Equally as plain, if the embassy is not relocated, as a penalty, Sec. 3(b) imposes substantial restrictions on the ability of the State Department to spend money on ‘acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad.’

And when one reads the waiver/suspension provision, Sec. 7 (a)(1), it explicitly says that ‘the President may suspend the limitation set forth in Sec. 3 (b)…to protect the national security interests of the United States.’

If words mean anything, the President may suspend the limitation on the ability to spend funds for acquisition and maintenance.

But nowhere is the President given the authority to suspend the legal obligation to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem!

So, Mr. President, the legal mandate to move the embassy continues. There never was any valid basis for delay. There is none now. American foreign policy should follow the law.

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