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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      June 5, 1995, V3, #103
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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The Politics of Jerusalem

By Deborah Cooper (Washington)

A legislative proposal that would move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has found little support in the Clinton administration or in the Labor government of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Senate Majority Leader and Republican Presidential Candidate Robert Dole has been accused of playing politics with American Jewish voters by introducing the legislation. If approved, opponents say the legislation could have a negative impact on the fragile Middle East peace process.

According to the 1947 United Nations resolution which would have partitioned Palestine into two states -- one Arab and the other Jewish -- Jerusalem would have remained a separate entity under the sovereignty of neither state. Rather, Jerusalem would become an international city. Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, however, all of Jerusalem has been under the control of Israel which maintains its capital in the western part of the city. East Jerusalem -- whose Old City is holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians -- remains distinctly Arab.

Dole announced the proposed legislation to move the American embassy to Jerusalem at a meeting of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, Israel's chief American lobbying group. Alan Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says the legislation calls only for moving the embassy to west Jerusalem.

"It does not say that the United States recognizes Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. It simply recognizes the de- facto situation that the Israeli seat of government is in west Jerusalem, that the United States regularly sends its representatives to west Jerusalem to conduct all the normal business of diplomacy. Our ambassador receives his accreditation in west Jerusalem. In fact the United States really need not fundamentally change its policy on east Jerusalem in any way if this bill passes. And I think that's really the key point."

Makovsky, a former U.S. State Department official, argues that since the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993, which established a framework and timetable for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestine Liberation Organization has dropped its claim to west Jerusalem.
"When the PLO talks about Jerusalem almost always it is talking about east Jerusalem. It says there should be two states -- an Israeli state with its capital in west Jerusalem and a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem. So the argument is no longer about west Jerusalem. There's only an argument about east Jerusalem.

"Dole has a particular history with the Jewish community." Makovsky said. "I think there was some feeling that he had to improve that relationship. So there's certainly good reason to suspect there's a political dimension to it.

"That doesn't mean that there's no substance to it. I think what makes this thing more possible now than it was two years ago was the Oslo agreement, ironically from a Palestinian point of view. But once the Israelis recognized the PLO and once the Israelis formalized that they were willing to negotiate about Jerusalem and once the PLO made clear which it basically did explicitly after the Oslo agreement that it was only talking about east Jerusalem when it talked Jerusalem, then I think this thing became a substantive possibility."

Most members of Congress recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and want the US Embassy there. But because of the timing and the possible ramifications to the peace process, the legislation proposed by Dole may have a difficult time getting full congressional approval.

The Coming Clash Over Jerusalem
Commentary from Intelligence Digest

The architects of the Middle East peace process recognized that Jerusalem was one of the most difficult of all the barriers to a permanent settlement between the Arabs and the Jews - so they postponed talk of the issue until the final settlement negotiations which are due to begin in 1996.

But sources in the Middle East say that of all the years to chose for putting Jerusalem on the agenda, 1996 is the least auspicious.

For a start, 1996 will be a particularly sensitive year for both Israel and the United States as both are due to hold elections.

For the US, the difficulties will be compounded because in or about July 1996 it will have completed the construction work on the building that could become the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and therefore the pressure for a decision will increase.

(The US Ambassador to Israel, Martyn Indyk, warned Congress in early February that compelling the administration to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem - as Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich wants - would destroy the peace process. But postponing the decision until 1996 will achieve little or nothing.)

The Israeli Labor government, of course, seeking re-election, will be trying its utmost to secure American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in order to dispel the public perception that the peace process is an endless sellout.

The assumption behind the schedule written into the PLO-Israel accord, which delayed discussions of Jerusalem until 1996, was that so much progress would have been made in all other areas that neither side would let the process fail over Jerusalem.

That assumption was always optimistic (and the product of Western minds that do not properly understand the depth of emotions involved in the Jerusalem question). It is made doubly so by the particular difficulties associated with 1996.

Apart from being an election year in the US and Israel, 1996 is also the year in which Israel will be celebrating the 3,000th anniversary of the establishment of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. This can only reinforce the already-strong Jewish commitment to the city.

But, at the same time, the repeated Arab and Palestinian statements on Jerusalem are not empty rhetoric. The Arabs mean what they say on this issue above all others.

Faisal Husseini, who is in charge of Jerusalem affairs for the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), has warned that if the Palestinians do not get what they want: "Jerusalem will become the black cloud that could swallow everything. including all hopes for peace."

It will be almost impossible for Israel both to celebrate Jerusalem's 3,000th anniversary and to make concessions to the Palestinians, not least because in the religious context (and what other is there when it comes to Jerusalem?) East Jerusalem is even more important to the Jews than West Jerusalem. 1996 looks set to be a fateful year for Jerusalem and the Middle East.

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