If I Should Forget Thee, O Jerusalem … Oh, Just Forget About It


If I forget thee, O Jerusalem – hey, that's politics.

This month, President Bush, for the 10th time, signed a waiver delaying a congressional mandate to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The event will go largely unnoticed, even in this highly charged election season.

But not if Dick Hellman, head of the Christians' Israel Public Action Committee, has anything to say about it. He is trying to mobilize fellow Christian Zionists and their allies to urge President Bush to honor his six-year-old campaign promise and move the Embassy now.

In a letter to the president, he wrote, "Since we believe you are a man of your word, we expect you to keep your promise." He notes that Bush, if he signs another waiver, would match the record of President Clinton – a record Bush repeatedly criticized during his first presidential campaign.

Is anyone listening? Except for some fringe groups like Americans for a Safe Israel, not at all.

The prime movers in the original 1995 legislation – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations – aren't interested. They achieved what they wanted in the first place: not to move the embassy but to embarrass a pair of political leaders whose policies they opposed – Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin. After passing the bill, they joined the Congressional Republican leadership in vociferously denouncing Clinton's repeated waivers and praising candidate Bush's promise to make the move his "first order of business" as president. Since his election, though, they've been strangely silent except for muted statements of "understanding."

Hellman, a pro-Israel Christian activist for more than 25 years who has opposed most Mideast peace initiatives, admits the response to his call for a nationwide campaign has been disappointing, especially where it counts most, on the Hill and in major Jewish organizations. Acknowledging reasons given by Clinton and Bush for previous waivers, he noted, "There's no peace process to interfere with."

Move it now, say Hellman and other advocates, what harm could it do? Of course, there will be an angry reaction throughout the Arab world. But that's nothing new. Even those moderate pro-Western, pro-peace Jordanians have joined the Moslem chorus denying any Jewish claims to Jerusalem. The Saudis, who continue financing terror groups, lead the anti-Israel boycott and do nothing useful to bring peace, will denounce the move and call the president's father to complain.

The Arab reaction is not the real reason Bush will let this deadline pass and why nothing will happen for the 20th time. There is no pressing U.S. foreign-policy goal to be achieved by moving the embassy now.

Yes, it would make Israel happy, but it's not a high priority there, either. There's no clamor from the Israeli government to move the embassy; it wasn't on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's agenda when he was in Washington last month. Olmert's opponents failed in Israel's recent elections to profit by accusing him of being willing to divide Jerusalem; that's because he and most Israelis are ready – if the deal is right.

Hellman and CIPAC are threatening to go to Congress to remove Bush's waiver authority, but nothing will happen there, either. It just isn't in the interest of either party to bring it up. Republicans did it in 1980 to embarrass Jimmy Carter when he was running for re-election, Democrats did it four years later when Ronald Reagan was going for reelection, and Republicans returned the favor in 1995 when it was Clinton's turn. With Bush a lame duck, what's the use?

Let's face facts: The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act isn't really about Jerusalem or the location of the U.S. Embassy in Israel or about fairness to Israel. It's just a vehicle for scoring partisan political points.

It's all about politics; diplomacy and foreign policy are just excuses. So President Bush signed this waiver and will do the same for the next one and all the ones after that until he can pass the buck to his successor.

Douglas M. Bloomfield is a Washington, D.C.-based columnist.



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