Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Obama administration is creeping closer to a move to carve up Jerusalem. White House ambiguity holds the holy city hostage to Palestinian ambition.

Late Friday, the White House released Presidential Determination 2009-19, “Suspension of Limitations Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act.” This determination is a legally required waiver to continue to delay the May 31, 1999, deadline for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Nearly identical memos like this have been issued every six months for the past decade.

In the George W. Bush years — except during his lame-duck period — the memo contained a crucial sentence: “My administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.” The Obama team dropped that passage.

When he was running for president, Mr. Obama courted Jewish voters by saying, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” However, he immediately backed away from his own statement, saying that Jerusalem somehow also could be the capital of a Palestinian state and have divided sovereignty. Now he is signaling that even diplomatic recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is in doubt.

This is a major step backward for Jerusalem and the peace process. In his speech in Cairo last week, Mr. Obama stated that “all of us have a responsibility to work for the day … when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims.” In case the president hasn’t noticed, this goal already has been accomplished. Citizens of Jerusalem can worship as they please. Tourists can visit Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious sites. Under Israeli stewardship, the city is a beacon of tolerance and hope.

The situation was much different when East Jerusalem was under Arab control. Last July, Mr. Obama visited Israel and prayed at the Western Wall. Before Israeli control of this area, Jews and others were barred from praying at this most holy site despite a provision in the 1948 cease-fire agreement that all be given access.

The next time Mr. Obama visits the city, he should stop by the site of the Hurva Synagogue, an ancient and revered place of worship in the Jewish Quarter that was destroyed needlessly and maliciously by Arab troops in 1948. Arab Legion commander Abdallah el-Tal later bragged that “only four days after our entry into Jerusalem the Jewish Quarter had become a graveyard.” Mr. Obama can then ponder the fact that Israel has sustained and protected the al-Aqsa Mosque, which stands on the Temple Mount. It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic symbol of religious tolerance.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently told us in an exclusive interview that Jerusalem must stay “a united city, open for all religions. It must be a destination site for tourists. And it must remain an Israeli city.” We agree. It is time for Congress to close the loophole in the Jerusalem Embassy Act and force the administration to make this long-overdue move. Mr. Obama has made several conflicting statements regarding U.S. policy on Jerusalem. The president needs to clarify which view is operative now that he’s in the White House.

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