Will He or Won't He? Arab Groups Await Bush Action on Jerusalem

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:29pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - President Bush may have signed a bill directing him to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But the State Department authorization bill includes "advisory," not "mandatory" language, according to an official with the House International Relations Committee.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee interprets the bill as a mere "suggestion" to the president with nothing requiring Bush to recognize Jerusalem, the city at the heart of the bloody dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians, as the capital of Israel.

Hussein Ibish, spokesman for the anti-discrimination group, is confident of the eventual outcome but critical of the original motive.

"We really have thought and continue to think that congressional meddling in this matter reflects the financial and political power of pro-Israel special interest groups and certainly not the interests of the United States," said Ibish.

"This bill does not require them (Bush administration) to do anything (about Jerusalem) and has the force of a suggestion or a recommendation and I think that is the way the executive should continue to view this," he said.

During the 2000 presidential election, candidate George W. Bush promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But since becoming president, he has not followed through, fearing heated reaction from Arabs in the region.

Ibish also thinks moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be a bad move at this time.

"It would be, really, an incredible slap in the face to not only the Arab world but to the international community, the United Nations, to international law and it would be a major blow to the peace process. Only a very irresponsible person could recommend that this is a good idea," he said.

"Given the national interests of this country, no matter what Congress does or says, it is not possible for any responsible president to flout international law or the prospects for peace in such a reckless manner," Ibish said.

Only El Salvador and Costa Rica maintain their embassies in Jerusalem.

Ibish thinks the reason is "because the international legal status of Jerusalem is very much unsettled and to move your embassy to Jerusalem is to flout international law."

But the American Committee on Jerusalem, another Arab-American group, was disappointed at Bush's action, according to spokesman Rafi Dajani.

"Obviously we are very disappointed with any bill that gives legitimacy over Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem. It flies in the face of U.N. resolutions. It certainly flies in the face of international law on the subject and also flies in the face of not ... siding with one party against the other," said Dajani.

The ACJ rejects Bush's statement that, "U.S. policy toward Jerusalem has not changed."

"The bill that he signed has provisions in it that require the United States to identify Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but we are told it's non-binding. For the first time, a president has actually signed a spending bill that stipulates steps to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital but it seems that he is going to exercise his prerogative not to follow those steps," said Dajani.

The White House did not return several phone calls Tuesday seeking further comment on this story.

In 1950, Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital city. Because Jerusalem remains a disputed city between Israel and Palestine, most countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv, which was Israel's capital from 1948 to 1950.

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