News Analysis: U.S. Appears to Be Compounding Confusion over Jerusalem Policy

More than a week after President Bush first raised doubts about the U.S. position on Jerusalem, there is still confusion about where the administration stands.

The confusion has been kept alive by contradictory statements made in recent days by top officials of the Bush administration.

They seemed to be saying, on one hand, that Jews, including Soviet immigrants, can live in East Jerusalem. But on the other hand, the statements seemed to say, Jews should not live there until the future of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip is decided through negotiations.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem shortly after capturing it in 1967. It regards it as an indivisible part of the capital.

An example of the administration’s confusing stance came at a briefing last Thursday by State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler, who repeatedly insisted that there had been no change in U.S. policy since the 1967 Six-Day War.

“We believe strongly that Jerusalem must never be divided again,” Tutwiler said. She said one of the U.S. goals in working toward Mideast peace is “to assure Jerusalem remains unified.”

At the same time, Tutwiler repeated the U.S. position that settlements in the administered territories, including East Jerusalem, are an obstacle to peace.

“All the territories occupied in 1967 are still occupied,” she told reporters, adding, “You know what they are.”

WHAT IS MEANT BY EAST JERUSALEM?

But she vehemently denied that she was saying that East Jerusalem was occupied territory, since it had been regained by Israel in the Six-Day War, along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “Have you heard me say that?” she asked defiantly.

The controversy began March 3, when Bush said he opposed new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Bush sought to clarify his position in a phone call March 5 to Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

But then a White House statement on the conversation further clouded the issue.

The statement said Bush had indicated U.S. support for a united Jerusalem. “The president also made clear U.S. support for Jews, as well as others, to live there in the context of a negotiated settlement,” it said.

The administration still has not said whether this means Jews should not live in East Jerusalem until a negotiated settlement is reached.

Also unclear is whether the administration is really talking about East Jerusalem or, as some suspect, the new Jewish neighborhoods built over the 1967 borders that have been incorporated into the Jerusalem city limits.

Jewish leaders thought the situation was cleared up March 6, when both Vice President Dan Quayle and John Sununu, the White House chief of staff, told separate Jewish audiences that the United States does not oppose Jews living in East Jerusalem.

But then the next day, David Welch, director of Near East and South Asian affairs for the National Security Council, told another Jewish group that the United States has always been concerned about “settlement activity” in East Jerusalem.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents, said the Bush administration has been asked to clarify the contradictions. “We want to put the matter behind us,” Hoenlein said.

REICH ISSUES CRITICAL STATEMENT

But on Sunday, the chairman of the conference, Seymour Reich, issued a statement here that went further, by directly criticizing the administration’s “mixed signals” as having “undermined the confidence necessary for Israel to take those risks for peace that the administration asks.”

“Quite understandably, anxiety in Israel has grown since the issuance of various administration comments indicating that East Jerusalem is considered no different from the West Bank, rather than being regarded as part of a united city,” Reich said.

“To introduce ambiguities on Jerusalem at this extremely delicate phase” is “counterproductive to the advancement of the peace process,” he said.

Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, took a similarly strong stance against the administration Sunday.

Speaking here to the seventh National Young Leadership Conference of the United Jewish Appeal, Kaplan said, “Mr. President, Jerusalem is not for sale. This is not a negotiation, this is our people. The center of our life is Jerusalem, and we will never sell Jerusalem.”

The administration’s statements also provoked a defiant response from Israel. Construction and Housing Minister David Levy announced last Friday that Israel would immediately begin construction of 3,000 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, some of them for Soviet immigrants.

The Bush administration’s contradictory stance on Jerusalem is the result of conflicting policy goals, according to Martin Indyk, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank.

NOT A SLIP OF THE TONGUE

Indyk believes Bush wants to move forward on Israel’s peace initiative. But at the same time, the president’s instincts, bolstered by the views of some of his advisers, are to focus on the settlements, Indyk said.

He believes that Bush did not make a slip of the tongue when he mentioned East Jerusalem on March 3.

The president reportedly has been deeply concerned about the settlement of Soviet Jews in the West Bank since Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said several weeks ago that a “big Israel” would be needed to settle all of the Soviet immigrants.

Although Shamir has since assured the president that only about 1 percent of Soviet immigrants have gone to the West Bank, Bush’s aides have claimed that large number of Soviet Jews are settling in East Jerusalem and the Jewish neighborhoods around it.

The contradiction that appeared last week “has emerged at the worst possible time for U.S. policy” in the Middle East, Indyk said. But he said Bush’s remarks stemmed from a “concern about settlements, not a concern about the peace process.”

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