Embassy Issue Surfaces Again

The issue of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which the administration claims is a time bomb in the middle of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, is ticking again thanks to a petition being circulated by the Conference of Presid

10/02/98
Washington Correspondent
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Embassy Issue Surfaces Again The issue of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which the administration claims is a time bomb in the middle of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, is ticking again thanks to a petition being circulated by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The petition originated with an “ad hoc interfaith group of people concerned about Jerusalem,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chair of the umbrella group. The decision to distribute the petition, which calls for the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act to be implemented by May, 1999, came from the group’s Jerusalem committee, he said. But some member agencies objected — some because of the idea of forcing the embassy issue at this juncture, others on procedural grounds. “Agencies were being asked to support a petition with very unclear sponsors,” said Mark Rosenblum, political director of Americans for Peace Now. “The petition originated with ‘Americans for an Undivided Jerusalem,’ but there were no names attached to the organization and nobody knew who they were. If Conference of Presidents wanted to move toward a public campaign on Jerusalem, this was not the way to go.” But APN’s objections weren’t just procedural. “We’re at a delicate moment in the 19-month stalemate,” Rosenblum said. “To throw this as a grenade in the middle of very sensitive negotiations would help scuttle Oslo and give Hamas a new issue around which to rally. The timing is terrible.” In Washington, the issue is being downplayed by pro-Israel leaders who say there is even less movement on the issue than usual — in part because of heightened concern about the security of U.S. embassies abroad. “There’s a great desire not to raise the issue now because the sanction [in the congressional legislation mandating the move] involves cutting off funds for the operation of U.S. embassies abroad,” said a top pro-Israel activist here. “There is widespread agreement that the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem, but pushing the issue now would put us in the uncomfortable position of seeming like we’re jeopardizing the safety and security of embassies around the world.” Jews Lose On Azerbaijan A coalition of Jewish activists lost a battle on the issue of sanctions against Azerbaijan, but they promise to continue the fight, which they say is a matter of urgent U.S. and Israeli interest, in the next Congress. The issue centers on a 1994 law imposing sanctions on Azerbaijan because of its blockade of Armenia and the disputed area of Nagorno- Karabakh. The administration, backed by oil companies and other business interests, wants the ban lifted; so does Israel, even though Jerusalem is prudently staying out of the wrangling in Washington. Recently, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith and the Anti-Defamation League banded together to support lifting the ban. Nations such as Azerbaijan serve as a critical buffer zone in a volatile area, said Barry Jacobs, assistant director of international relations for the American Jewish Committee. “We collectively believe that it’s critical to work with moderate Islamic nations that have strong relations with Israel.” The groups also argued that the large Jewish population in Azerbaijan is being hurt by the aid ban. Oil is a factor in the debate, as well. Oil companies claim that the ban means they can’t build a major oil pipeline through Azerbaijan and Turkey. Instead, they say, the pipeline carrying Caspian Sea oil might be built through Iran, a situation that they argue would give Teheran the ability to cut off the supply. For the Jewish groups, the decision to lobby against the ban was particularly difficult because the Armenian-American community, traditional allies of Jewish groups in Washington, were determined to maintain sanctions. “It’s a painful change for the Jewish community, taking a position that irritates the Armenians,” Jacobs said. “But we did it because it is the right thing for the U.S., for Israel and for the security of the region.” But the House rejected repeal of the aid ban by a 231-182 vote. Jewish Democrats were split; some, including Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York) voted to maintain the sanctions, while Rep. Tom Lantos (D- Calif.) and others voted to lift the ban. Israel-UN Bill Advances, But U.S. Still A Deadbeat Legislation requiring Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to work harder to get Israel into one of the United Nation’s regional blocs has advanced in Congress. But pro-Israel activists, while appreciative, say that declining U.S. influence in the international body may doom the effort from the outset. The measure was authored by Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.). The optimistically titled, “Equality for Israel and the United Nations Act” would require the secretary of state to report to Congress by March 15, 1999, on actions taken by the State Department to encourage Israel’s acceptance to the UN regional bloc system. Israel is the only UN member that has never been accepted into one of five regional blocs. Membership is important because it is a requirement for the revolving position on the Security Council. U.S. officials have pressed to get Israel into the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG), but Congress feels they haven’t pushed hard enough. Last week, Rothman said that “the momentum being gained in Congress to end the discrimination being faced by Israel at the UN is unmistakable.” But the foreign operations bill, the legislative vehicle for Rothman’s proposal, still has to get through a House-Senate conference committee, and the bill is considered prime veto-bait because of anti-abortion provisions. And while Jewish activists praise Rothman’s intentions, they said that it comes at a difficult time. With the U.S. arrears to the international body still unpaid, Washington’s influence is at an all-time low.

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03/06/2012 - 21:41

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