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NEWS ANALYSIS Arafat seeks support for state; battle over Jerusalem rages on

WASHINGTON, March 23 (JTA) — The question of Palestinian statehood may have garnered most of the attention during Yasser Arafat”s visit here this week, but the battle over Jerusalem lurked just below the surface. For Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, the issues are linked — he wants a state with “Holy Jerusalem” as its capital. But to many Israelis, American Jews, members of Congress and policymakers — even those who have come to accept a Palestinian state as inevitable — sharing Jerusalem is out of the question. Clinton”s meeting with Arafat on Tuesday focused on the Palestinian leader”s request for U.S. recognition of a state at a later date if Arafat agrees to let May 4 pass without a unilateral declaration. But Clinton reiterated U.S. policy that a state can only emerge through negotiations, according to U.S. officials. Clinton promised to seek “intensive, serious and credible” peace talks with a deadline for completion. Little progress has been made since October, when Israel and the Palestinians signed the widely hailed Wye agreement. Since then, each side has accused the other of violating provisions of the accord. Clinton”s meeting with Arafat was the third in recent months and was seen as a boost to Arafat”s image at home. Even as Clinton apparently didn”t give Arafat what he was seeking, the president criticized unilateral actions by Israel. He told Arafat that Israeli expansion of settlements beyond existing boundaries are “destructive to the process of peace,” U.S. officials said. Even as attention focuses on May 4, the date Arafat has threatened to unilaterally declare statehood, another critical date — this one relating to Jerusalem — looms large. At issue is the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act, a 1995 law that requires the United States to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
[[ The law requires that building for a new embassy begin or half of the State Department”s multimillion-dollar budget for overseas construction and maintenance of its embassies will be frozen. No one knows for sure when the State Department will finish spending the first half of its budget, but with the federal fiscal year set to reach its halfway point March 31, Clinton is preparing to take steps to release the money.]] But Clinton, who opposed the embassy legislation from the start, has vowed not to move forward on it until Israeli-Palestinian negotiators resolve the final status of the city. Israelis and Palestinians agreed to leave the most contentious issues — including statehood and the status of Jerusalem — until final-status talks. Under the original Oslo accords, those talks were to have been completed by May 4, but instead have barely gotten off the ground. Jerusalem leapt to the front of the peace process agenda in recent weeks when the European Union resurrected language from the 1940s, calling Jerusalem an international city. Now the European Union is reportedly crafting a declaration to support the right of Palestinian statehood that calls on Israel not to veto such a state. The E.U. move is apparently part of the international effort to convince Arafat not to declare a state on May 4. On the Jerusalem issue, the deadline Clinton now faces could force the issue once again onto the front burner and into the Israeli election campaign, something Clinton administration officials have said they want to avoid. From the start, Clinton argued that the embassy measure was inflammatory and would explode the peace process. Responding to his personal lobbying, Congress included a provision in the law that allows the president to waive sanctions against the State Department if such a move does not take place. According to administration officials, Clinton is preparing to use his prerogative to waive the law. Such a move is sure to draw the ire of the U.S. Congress, which overwhelmingly passed the embassy law as a show of support for Israel. Israel is the only country where the United States does not maintain its embassy in the country”s declared capital. In the meantime, a key senator who has championed Israel”s claim to Jerusalem since he came to the Senate in 1977 is going public with a compromise plan. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) wants the United States to designate an official site in Jerusalem for “ambassadorial functions.” Although largely symbolic, the act would be yet another small step toward U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, according to congressional aides. Moynihan has proposed using a suite of offices at the LaRomme Hotel in Jerusalem maintained by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. In a letter to Clinton”s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, Moynihan called for the embassy to publicize its presence in Jerusalem. Moynihan wrote that he remains “convinced that it is not too late for the administration to craft a response to this impending deadline that honors the spirit and letter of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, while avoiding actions or statements that may have negative repercussions on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the current Israeli election campaign.” Designating an appropriate site in Jerusalem for ambassadorial functions “would give all sides a clear understanding of the intentions of the United States in a way that none should find surprising, or objectionable,” Moynihan wrote. The White House has not responded to Moynihan”s letter, although the two sides have been in negotiations over the issue for months. “I”m highly optimistic we will have a deal,” said David Luchins, a top aide to Moynihan. “The administration is not interested in having a conflict over Jerusalem,” he said. Other congressional officials sounded a more pessimistic tone, but promised to “win” on the Jerusalem issue before Moynihan retires from Congress in two years. Prior to his meeting with Clinton, Arafat met in New York with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss the peace process and Palestinian statehood. Leaving the meeting, Arafat called it “very fruitful, very positive.” “I remind the world that the decision calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state is Resolution 181, which refers to a Palestinian state, then to a Jewish State which later came to be called Israel,” he told reporters, referring to the U.N.”s 1947 partition plan, which was overwhelmingly rejected by Arab states at the time. “The Palestinian people has the right to a homeland and to self-determination just like all the other peoples of the world,” he added. Responding to Arafat”s comments to the media, Israel”s ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, noted an increasing reliance on the part of Arafat and other Palestinian officials on U.N. Resolution 181 to justify claims for statehood. “By getting increasing world acknowledgment of 181,” Gold said, “he”s hoping he can break through the ”67 borders and get international backing for claims inside of Israel.” “Equally important and maybe more importantly,” Gold said, “he”s using reference to 181 to pry open Jerusalem.” The 1947 partition plan would have established Jerusalem as an international zone with a U.N.-appointed governor and a legislative council elected by proportional representation of the city”s residents. Relying on the U.N. resolution is the first stage “is a means of denying recognition of Israel”s control,” Gold said. “In a latter stage, he can assert a Palestinian claim.”” (JTA Staff Writer Julia Goldman in New York contributed to this article.)