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Waiver again delays embassy move

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WASHINGTON, Dec 22 (JTA) — With Israel and the Palestinians in final-status talks that are supposed to determine the fate of Jerusalem, President Clinton has once again invoked a national security waiver allowing him to postpone moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

When Clinton invoked the waiver for the first time in June, some Jewish groups expressed disappointment, and some members of Congress threatened to introduce legislation to take away the president’s waiver right in an effort to force him to comply with the law within the next year.

But with Congress in recess and many others in Washington away for the holidays or focused on the Israel-Syria talks, Clinton’s move last Friday did not get a lot of notice. The law allowing the waiver requires the issue to be revisited every six months.

Another key factor in the muted response is the position on the issue articulated by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

During a July visit to Washington, his first as prime minister, Barak made clear that he is committed to retaining Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, but he did not call for an immediate relocation of the embassy.

When asked about the issue during a joint news conference with Clinton, he said he was working on the “preconditions” — meaning resolution of final-status issues with the Palestinians — to make such a move possible.

“I feel that the essence of the peace process effort that we are trying to drive forward right now is to bring within the shortest possible time a new political landscape in the Middle East that will make the whole question irrelevant,” he said. “You will see all the embassies together side by side in Jerusalem.”

However, Barak has indicated that if a deal with the Palestinians is not reached next year he would urge that the embassy be moved.

By invoking the waiver, which is contained in a 1995 law that called for the embassy to have been moved by May 31, 1999, Clinton allows the administration to avoid financial penalties for not complying with the law.

James Fallin, a White House spokesman, reiterated the Clinton administration’s long-standing position that it does not want to make any moves that it believes would damage the peace process.

The administration is taking a “conservative approach here based on a commitment to further the peace process,” Fallin told JTA.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the president’s decision is “no real shock.” But he noted that the issue will have to be re- examined in six months when the waiver expires.

The president’s move “is not a permanent decision,” Hoenlein said.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, “strongly condemned” the move, saying Clinton is “once again defying the will of the Congress and the American public, which support moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.”

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