For the past 30 years, members of Congress and the community have urged successive presidents to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. Embassy there. Frustrated by the lack of progress, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act by overwhelming and bipartisan margins in 1995 -- requiring that the embassy move by May 31, 1999.
On June 17, 1999, however, the President issued a national security waiver, effectively postponing the move. By invoking the waiver, he avoided the financial penalty that accompanied his decision not to move the embassy by the legal deadline. The Jerusalem Embassy Act mandated that the President move the embassy to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999, or face a 50 percent cut in the State Department's budget to maintain our embassies overseas.
The waiver -- which expires after six months but can be reissued -- only applies to this financial penalty. The policy provisions of the law remain in effect. The Jerusalem Embassy Act states that it is the policy of the United States that:
- Jerusalem should remain an undivided city.
- Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.
- The U.S. Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem.
WHY WAS THE WAIVER ISSUED NOW?
Though the Act passed in 1995, the deadline for opening the embassy in Jerusalem was the end of last month. The government is also only now reaching the 50 percent mark of the "Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad" account. Because the embassy was not moved, the President needed to issue the waiver to avoid a funding shortfall for overseas building maintenance at the State Department.
WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?
Congress has already begun responding to the waiver. A bipartisan letter to the President, authored by Sens. Kyl (R-AZ), Lieberman (D-CT), Mack (R-FL), Levin (D-MI), Allard (R-CO), Schumer (D-NY) and other senators is currently circulating. The letter states that:
They are deeply disappointed that the President utilized the waiver provision.
The waiver applies solely to the funding issue, not to U.S. policy that Jerusalem should remain united and be recognized as Israel's capital, with our embassy located there.
As final status negotiations begin, the U.S. approach to Jerusalem should be based on U.S.law, as stipulated in the Act.