U.S. lawmakers push to move embassy to Jerusalem

WASHINGTON — Upset with the Clinton administration's continued resistance to implementing a 1995 law that requires the United States to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, lawmakers have introduced another bill intended to force the administration to make the change.

Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Woodland Hills) and Jim Saxton (R-N.J.) led a bipartisan group of 16 lawmakers in introducing the Jerusalem-Berlin Embassy Relocation Act last week, saying that the original legislation, which was overwhelmingly passed by Congress, has "no teeth."

The new bill ties the Jerusalem move to the State Department's plans to build an embassy in Berlin to replace the existing one in Bonn. In 1991, after the country's reunification, the German Bundestag voted to return the seat of government from Bonn to Berlin, a move expected to be completed by 1999. After that decision, the United States announced that it would rebuild its embassy in Berlin.

The legislation is denying the State Department funds for the Berlin embassy unless similar construction is launched on an embassy in Jerusalem. The bill also prohibits use of the new embassy in Berlin until the United States opens a temporary or permanent embassy in Jerusalem.

In introducing the bill, Sherman said, "Jerusalem, the capital of the nation born of the Holocaust, Israel's capital since 1950, reunified in 1967, deserves a U.S. Embassy as much as Berlin, a city reunified in 1989 and slated to become Germany's capital next year."

Sherman said the bill was needed because the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act, which requires the United States to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999, is not strong enough. That statute allows the president to waive the provision if he feels moving the embassy is counter to the country's national security interests.

"The only way Congress can put teeth in the 1995 [law] is to deny the State Department the right to spend money on a project they favor until they start construction in Jerusalem," Sherman said.

The administration has consistently used the waiver, saying any move by the United States would upset the delicate negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "Berlin is Berlin. Jerusalem is Jerusalem. For us, it is two separate issues."

The official, who said the legislation would not change the administration's position, said there are not "unresolved problems" between Berliners like those that exist between Israelis and Palestinians.

The introduction of the bill comes at a time when Jerusalem has been at the center of several recent controversies between Israel and the Palestinians.

In May, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) drew protests from the Clinton administration and Palestinians when he announced that he would visit the site of the future embassy in Jerusalem during a trip to Israel to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Gingrich later backed off from the visit.

Late last month, Israel's decision to expand its capital city prompted a new international dispute. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the criticism, saying the plan is intended to bolster the economic situation in Jerusalem and "has no political implications whatsoever, either in Jerusalem or outside of Jerusalem."