A bill circulating in the US House of Representatives that would strip the president of his power to waive a law requiring him to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem is gaining traction and bipartisan support amid a groundswell of Christian support for the measure.
The proposal, which comes as the Palestinians prepare to unilaterally seek recognition of an independent state at the United Nations next week, serves to highlight the fruition of faith-based diplomacy at a time of increasing Israeli isolation in the diplomatic arena.
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Successive US administrations including presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have repeatedly used the presidential waiver to delay moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in accordance with a 1995 law which authorized the embassy’s relocation but which gave the president the power to postpone its implementation every six months in the interests of national security.
The new legislation, which has 42 co-sponsors in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, including nine Democrats, faces a possible Senate defeat and a certain presidential veto even if it gets to a vote in the House in the coming months as its proponents hope.
But the combination of unprecedented grass-roots Christian support and
an election year give the symbolic legislation – which is meant to show
Congress’s unequivocal support for the State of Israel – its “best
chance ever” of passage in the House, legislators said.
“If any Congress can do it, this one can,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn
(R-Colorado), a co-chairman of the Israel Allies Caucus in Congress and a
cosponsor of the bill.
The congressman said that the Palestinian move at the UN, which is going
ahead in the face of US opposition, was a good impetus for Congress to
approve the legislation, since it would serve as a counterweight to
their attempts to seek statehood based on the pre-1967 lines.
“This is a good time for the US, through Congress, to show the world
American support for Israel and Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he
said. “It will help counteract the Palestinian attempt to declare
statehood and recognize Jerusalem as their capital.”
The bill, which was reintroduced this spring and is still in committee,
has the backing of the the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), facilitating its
referral to the full House for a vote.
“I strongly support US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided
capital, and US law already requires the relocation of our embassy to
However, the administration continues to waive that provision of the law,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a written statement.
“The administration can move our embassy to Jerusalem and recognize
Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital with the stroke of a pen, and
should do so. I will continue to work with my Congressional colleagues
to pressure the Executive Branch to do the right thing and fully
implement US law.”
She noted, however, that her current focus was on stopping the
Palestinian unilateral action at the UN, and on addressing security
threats posed by Iran and Syria.
A law removing such a waiver would likely be vetoed by the White House
as unconstitutionally challenging the president’s executive prerogative
in setting foreign policy.
“The only way the embassy will ever be moved is if the American people
speak up through their representatives and we repeal the presidential
waiver,” said Dave Weldon, vice president of the International Israel
Allies Caucus Foundation, and a former Congressional co-chairman of the
Israel Allies Caucus.
“We’ve been working on this since 1995 but now we have a growing wave of
enthusiasm in Christian churches, especially in the Evangelical
Christian community in America to support Israel and to support move of
the embassy to Jerusalem.”
An estimated 60 million Evangelical Christians – who make up as much as
forty percent of the Republican Party voters – live in the US.
“Evangelical Christians are the most strategic ally the State of Israel
has and we are finally understanding this,” said Benny Elon, president
of the International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation, and the hawkish
rabbi who spearheaded Israel’s campaign to court Evangelical Christian
support during his tenure as tourism minister.
“Faith-based diplomacy is succeeding at a time when regular diplomacy is
failing and this is because these people support Israel based on their
faith and belief in the Bible,” said Josh Reinstein, director of the
Knesset’s increasingly influential Christian Allies Caucus.
The parliamentary lobby, which is made up of 18 members from six parties
across the political spectrum, has now formed 20 sister caucuses around
the world, including the Israel Allies Caucus in the US Congress.
The location of the embassy is sensitive in Mideast peace negotiations
because both Israelis and Palestinians claim it as their capital.
Indeed, the State Department has consistently opposed the embassy move concerned over disrupting the peace process.
“In my opinion we’ve been talking about it for a long time and we ought
to send a signal to anti-Israel forces through the Middle East that the
US is completely supportive of Israel’s right to exist and to its
capital in Jerusalem,” said Rep.
Dan Burton (R-Indiana), sponsor of this year’s bill.
“There always seems some reason not to do it, my idea is let us do it
now and get it done with.” He said that the State Department would
likely pressure members not to bring the bill to a vote.
“Knowing the State Department as I do, they would say – behind the scenes – that this is not a good thing to do,” he said.
But Lamborn said that he hopes the House will overlook expected White House and State Department pressure.
“This is an issue that transcends politics,” he concluded.