Posted on May 29, 1995 in Washington Watch

Senator Majority Leader Robert Dole’s proposal to force the U.S. embassy to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will not pass quickly through the Senate and Congress.

In fact, there are reports that the Senator will not bring his resolution to a vote until September. And there are other reports that an alternative and significantly weaker bill being proposed by a Democratic Senator threatens to take even Republican support from the Dole effort.

The major pro-Israel lobbying groups felt compelled to support Dole’s effort and have even attempted a silly effort to downplay the significance of the embassy move and the impact it would have on Arabs, Muslims and the Middle East peace process. But their efforts have been challenged.

The Clinton Administration (despite its recent UN vote) has been firm and in its opposition to measure and has worked to prevent Democratic Senators from becoming co-sponsors of the Dole bill. These efforts have been largely successful, since thus far after three weeks of personal lobbying Dole has only been able to get 39 other Senators to publicly support his effort (and only 11 Democrats). He had assumed that since 93 Senators signed a non-binding resolution calling for the embassy move, his effort to force the move had a mandate.

That has not been the case, however; and it appears that for now the effort is stalled.

Arab Americans and American Muslims have also played a leading role in shaping the public debate on this important questions and in lobbying against the move.

Our presence as part of the U.S. policy debate has become clear and well-established. In almost every article or media forum where the issue was debated or discussed, our views were solicited – and frequently supported.

On May 11, only two days after the legislation was introduced, I was invited to testify before the Senate Foreign relations Committee to discuss this and other matters.

I made it clear that there was no doubt that if the Senate were to support Dole’s bill that action would be viewed extremely negatively not only in Arab and Muslim worlds but also among most major Christian churches as well.

U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the face of U.S. silence on Israeli provocations in the city would be disastrous for any U.S. role in the peace process. I also argued that since the U.S. was a signatory of the Israel-PLO accord (which specified that the disposition of Jerusalem is a matter to be resolved in final status talks), moving the embassy could be understood as a material breach of the agreement. It would also undermine the legitimacy of the accords and the standing of the U.S. as a future signatory to any international agreement. Finally, I asked how moving the U.S. embassy would further U.S. goals or interests in the Middle East. In fact, I argued, such an act would do damage to those goals and interests.

Our efforts have extended beyond testifying and into the realm of organizing. Our Arab American Institute (AAI), together with two American Muslim organization, the American Muslim Council and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, held a meeting to mobilize public opposition to the legislation and plan a coordinated response.

Within a week our task force had a draft statement opposing Dole’s legislative initiative which was endorsed by most of the major Protestant and Catholic organizations in Washington, including the Senior Minister of the Church attended by both President Clinton and Senator Dole. The statement was released in a May 22 capitol Hill press conference designed to demonstrate that “Jerusalem is not an issue for just one religion,” a point “underscored by the participation and commitment of all the religious institutions represented.

In addition to AAI, and the two Muslim groups, eight major Christian groups delivered individual statements at the press conference, emphasizing their strong opposition to Dole’s Jerusalem ploy.

The Roman Catholic representative, for example, noted that moving the embassy would violate 38 years of U.S. policy and would “cause the U.S. to be perceived as having violated its role as facilitator of the peace process by preempting permanent status talks on Jerusalem.

The Mennonite representative noted that Jerusalem is “unique” and that East Jerusalem is “occupied” and “settled in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” He also criticized Israel’s proposed “Jerusalem 3000” celebrations as “essentially a well-orchestrated propaganda event whose motivation is to further strengthen exclusive Israeli control over the city.”

The Methodist Church spokesperson affirmed that “Jerusalem is of vital significance to Israelis and Palestinians, to Jews, Christians and Muslims,” and therefore called for “negotiation rather than unilateral action” to ensure that Jerusalem remains “a city of peace.”

The Episcopalian Church’s spokesperson denounced the embassy move effort as “sad, but not surprising.” “Sad because of the careless disregard the sponsors of the bill have for the peace process in the Middle East. But not surprising because it seems that every four years, when a presidential race heats up, the issue of moving the embassy to Jerusalem reemerges.”

Unitarian, Quaker, Lutheran, Church of the Brethren, and Orthodox Christian representatives also made statements at the press conference or endorsed the task force’s letter to the Senate.

Efforts against this horrible piece of legislation continue, but it now clear that Dole’s move, while still dangerous, has been derailed for the moment. Strong organized opposition has surfaced and both the Senator and his supporters have been embarrassed by the results of their quick move at a power play.

More must be done – but what has been done already shows that it may not be too late to save Jerusalem from U.S. presidential politics.

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