Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) will ask Congress for money to begin building a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem next year.
Dole plans to introduce legislation that would force the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before May 31, 1999. Construction must begin before the end of 1996, according to a draft of the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Implementation Act of 1995.
That provision is controversial, because it would mean that work on the new embassy would begin before the “final status” of Jerusalem is determined.
Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization are scheduled to begin negotiations on final-status issues, including the fate of Jerusalem, next year and to finish the talks by 1999.
Although the U.S. ambassador would not move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem until the status of Jerusalem is resolved in those negotiations, the construction “would be a symbolic gesture supporting a unified Jerusalem under Israeli control,” said one congressional aide familiar with the proposal.
The latest effort goes one step further than a letter that 93 senators sent to Secretary of State Warren Christopher last month calling for the United Status to move its embassy to Jerusalem at the end of the final status talks. More than 260 members of the House have signed a similar letter.
The embassy would most likely be built on a parcel of land in western Jerusalem that the United States bought last year. At the time, the Statue Department said any future development of the site would be for “a place where a very senior diplomat would live.” Official refused to say whether the plot would be used for an embassy.
Dole was expected to unveil his proposal in an address here Monday night to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby.
The State Department has opposed any plans to move the embassy, citing concerns that any effort could derail the Middle East peace process.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat claims eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, while Israel maintains that an undivided Jerusalem will remain its eternal capital.
Arafat attacked the Dole proposal, saying, “These latest attempts to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem are dangerous and in violation of previous U.S. administration decisions.”
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told reporters after meeting with Secretary of State Warren Christopher here last Friday that the location of the U.S. Embassy does not affect Israel’s claim to Jerusalem.
“We live by our laws,” Rabin said. “We have got our position. If the other countries, including the United States, have not recognized [the unification of Jerusalem] for the last 27 — by now almost 28 — years, it’s their problem.”
Christopher refused to say whether he supported Dole’s initiative.
“The parties to the Declaration of Principles themselves have confined the issue of Jerusalem to the second part of the negotiations,” Christopher said, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian agreement signed on the white House lawn in September 1993.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Communications Minister Shulamit Aloni said even though Israel wants all the embassies to be in Jerusalem someday, now is “not the right time.”
Aloni, who heads the left-wing Meretz bloc, said beginning construction on a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem next year “has a smell of provocation and even involvement in negotiations that must be between us and the Palestinians.”
The latest flap over moving the U.S. Embassy comes as Palestinians continue to protest Israel’s move last week to seize prime Arab-owned land in eastern Jerusalem. Last week State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said of the Israeli move, “It’s difficult to see how this type of action, this land confiscation, can be helpful at that time in the negotiations.”
For their part, Palestinians retaliated by trying to build onto the Orient House, the Palestinian Authority’s de-facto office in Jerusalem, without obtaining needed permits. Israeli authorities forced builders to halt construction and ordered an illegal addition torn down.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.