WASHINGTON (Apr. 1)
Congress has taken a strong lead on the issue of Jewish rights in a united Jerusalem, while the Bush administration, which has waffled on the matter for the past month, appears now to be softening its hardline stance.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution reaffirming Congress’ view that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel. It is virtually assured of passage on the floor.
The resolution, introduced by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), closely resembled the non-binding resolution of Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) that was adopted by the Senate on March 22.
Secretary of State James Baker, meanwhile, has softened an earlier administration position by asserting that Jews have a right to live anywhere in East or West Jerusalem.
“I am also well aware of the great significance which Jerusalem has for the Jewish people, as well as for the people of all religions,” Baker wrote in a March 16 letter to Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.), which was released over the weekend.
“Clearly, Jews and others can live where they want, East or West, and the city must remain undivided,” Baker said in the letter.
His words were warmly welcomed by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella organization of Jewish leaders.
“We believe that the secretary’s statement is important, as it clearly indicates what we have believed U.S. policy to be — that Jews, like Arabs, should be able to live today in all of Jerusalem,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the conference.
Unlike the Congressional consensus, the Bush administration does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, nor has any U.S. administration done so since East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967.
But the sentiments expressed by Baker to the California congressman were a significant departure from Bush’s unexpected rebuke to Israel on Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, which he equated with the West Bank.
Egypt, meanwhile, expressed concern over the earlier Moynihan resolution, which refers to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Any attempt to change “the status of East Jerusalem unilaterally goes against the basic principles of international law and U.N. resolutions on the Middle East problem,” the Foreign Ministry in Cairo said Saturday.