Deadline to Move U.S. Embassy Lapses

In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act calling on the President to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999. The law also allows Clinton to postpone the move in the interests of "national security" by using a waiver included in the law. Although the deadline has lapsed, the Administration still has time to evoke the waiver before certain sanctions called for in the legislation kick in and is expected to do so.

The Administration has insisted that moving the embassy would harm the peace process. The Palestinians have consistently argued that moving the embassy would prejudice the final negotiations and have vigorously lobbied the President not to change the status quo. Friends of Israel, meanwhile, are equally insistent that the United States should recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and end the anomaly of having only one embassy in the world outside that nation's capital. They argue further that hesitating to move the embassy only feeds Palestinian misconceptions that the United States will support their claim to make Jerusalem their capital.

For its part, the government of Israel has always made clear that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of the state and has expressed satisfaction with the idea of the U.S. embassy being moved, but has never made it a major issue. It is not yet clear what the position of Prime Minister Ehud Barak is on the issue.

Lawmakers on the other hand, are warning the President against using a waiver to circumvent the intent of Congress. A bipartisan group of 10 senators, led by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), wrote a letter to the President that states, “Establishing our Embassy in Jerusalem would constructively demonstrate U.S. support for Israel and, in particular, for Israel's national rights under international law.” If Clinton ignores the warning, it is likely members of Congress will consider new legislation requiring the embassy move and denying the President a waiver.