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U.S. lawmakers pressure Clinton to relocate U.S. Embassy in Israel

WASHINGTON, June 1 (JTA) — Stepping up pressure on the Clinton administration to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, U.S. lawmakers on Monday slammed President Clinton for failing to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and threatened to force the move through legislation. A 1995 law passed by Congress required that the embassy be relocated no later than May 31, 1999, but the law 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. With the administration expected to invoke the waiver in coming weeks, a bipartisan group of 10 senators, led by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), sternly warned Clinton against taking that course, saying it would be inconsistent with the intent of Congress. “Non-fulfillment of the law does no good to the U.S.-Israeli relationship or to prospects for Arab-Israeli peace,” the letter 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.” “The United States,” it continues, “should signal without equivocation that we will reject any effort to divide the United States from Israel regarding Jerusalem.” Israelis and Palestinians agreed to leave the most contentious issues in peace negotiations — including the status of Jerusalem — until final-status talks. Under the Oslo accords, those talks were to have been completed early last month, but they have barely gotten off the ground. Clinton, who opposed the embassy legislation from the start, has vowed not to move forward on it until Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resolve the final status of the city. But some members of Congress think the embassy should have been moved already, arguing that keeping America’s top diplomatic post in Tel Aviv gives the Palestinians false expectations. Should Clinton invoke the waiver, the lawmakers said, they will seek to force the move by introducing legislation to take away the president’s ability to issue a waiver. “We believe this is the best way to satisfy the requirements of the law and the legitimate concerns of all parties. And it would serve the cause of peace,” they wrote.