- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

With reports of continuing violence surrounding a tentative cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians, it may appear premature, if not inappropriate, to consider the issue of Jerusalem and its future at this time. In anticipation of the resumption of negotiations, however, it is vital for us to understand the dimensions of the problem in order to develop a sense of direction for its resolution.

Jerusalem is, of course, only one of the complicated problems on the negotiating agenda between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The division of the city following the 1948 War of Independence is indispensable to an understanding of its complexity. The war followed the Arab refusal to accept the U.N. decision on how Palestine should be governed once its British-mandated status was terminated. After the armistice, a wall was regrettably constructed by the Arabs to divide Jerusalem so that the Arab eastern sector, under Jordanian control, was separate from the Jewish western sector. In the eastern sector, dozens of synagogues were destroyed, Jewish graves were desecrated, and other actions taken to eliminate all signs of Jewish presence. In 1967, as the result of a war arising out of Israel's invasion by its Arab neighbors, Israel captured the eastern part of the city. The wall was removed and Israel was determined never to permit the division of the city again.

In October 1995, the Congress overwhelmingly enacted legislation making it "the official policy of the United States" that Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Israel and the U.S. embassy should be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The legislation gave the president the right to waive the embassy provision for six months, if he determined our national interest made it "necessary" to do so. President Clinton consistently exercised that right. On May 22, 2000, presidential candidate George W. Bush stated: "… as soon as I take office, I will begin the process of moving the United States ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital." Regrettably, Mr. Bush chose instead to renew the waiver just before it expired last month.

In making this decision, Mr. Bush was advised by the "experts" at the State Department, who opposed the 1995 legislation, that our Arab friends in the Middle East will be seriously offended if we move our embassy to Jerusalem. The large number of Arab countries in the Middle East, compared to the single Israel, means that the "experts" are most frequently exposed to Arab viewpoints. The impact of this influence was made manifest several months ago following testimony by Secretary of State Colin Powell at the House of Representatives, during which he reaffirmed the president's commitment to move our embassy and acknowledged Jerusalem as "the capital of Israel." The State Department moved quickly to correct Mr. Powell, saying, "The status of Jerusalem is an issue that needs to be resolved between the parties."

The implication is that the Arabs must agree where Israel, the only democracy in the area, locates its capital and where the United States locates its embassy. This position can and must be rejected by the president. The United States acknowledges the sovereign right of every nation to declare its own capital within its borders. Israel's capital is Jerusalem. This is a fact, and has been a fact for 51 years. As we recognize the sovereign state, so must we recognize their capital city.

To Jews, Jerusalem is the original city of David, where their First and Second Temples were destroyed by conquerors, with only the Western Wall remaining as a symbol. Jewish prayers for centuries have emphasized the city's centrality to the Jewish religion. To the Arabs, Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and the place from which Mohammad ascended to heaven. It is a city of vital importance to Christians as well, although the Vatican has said that it "has no particular interest in who controls Jerusalem," so long as all inhabitants have equal rights and freedom of access to the holy places.

It has long been clear that for a peaceful solution, Jews must come to appreciate that their significantly larger numbers and power in Israel come with a special responsibility to include Arabs within their borders as equal citizens. For a political arrangement, New York City offers a valuable example, with its system of a city-wide elected mayor, council and separately elected borough presidents. A similar form of government in Jerusalem could reflect the city's unity, while the boroughs might be granted local control over schools, licensing and services, and perhaps even police and fire support. Jerusalem's boundaries can also be modified without encroaching on its integrity as a united city. In short, Jerusalem is a mosaic, not a melting pot.

What can the United States do to help further the goal of peace? We must appreciate that the process depends on the negotiating parties and not on the United States, the United Nations or the European Union. To strengthen the process and discourage those Arab extremists who look to the day when they can capture Jerusalem, Mr. Bush should now fulfill his campaign promise by "beginning the process" of moving our embassy during the six-month hiatus he has imposed. In doing so, he will follow in the footsteps of President Truman, who officially recognized the state of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, over the objections of his secretary of state. Our values and integrity as a nation require that we recognize Israel's chosen capital.

Ambassador Max M. Kampelman is chairman of the Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

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