Bush Infuriates Muslims By Naming Jerusalem Offical Israel Capitol
by N. Janardhan
(IPS) DUBAI --
holy city and the unholy conspiracy" is how the Arab world views President George W. Bush's decision to sign into law a Congress-passed legislation requiring his administration to identify Jerusalem as Israel's capital in official documents.
The bill -- 2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act -- that provides over $4 billion to run the State Department in 2003 called for the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and denied funding for any official U.S. document unless it identifies the city as Israel's capital.
Despite Bush's insistence that he reserved the right to override the clause in the bill as he signed it on Monday, the move from a U.S. administration already seen in the Arab world as blatantly pro-Israeli caused an uproar across the region.
Like other countries, the U.S. embassy in Israel is presently located in Tel Aviv to reflect the contested nature of Arab East Jerusalem, encompassing Islam's third holiest shrine, which Israel captured and annexed after the 1967 Middle East war.
The annexation has never been recognized by the United Nations and the United States has consistently held that the city's status be negotiated by the Israelis and Palestinians in the context of a final peace deal.
Israel, which says that a united Jerusalem is its eternal capital, has maintained a stoic silence. But Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, whose people claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, denounced the law as a "disaster" against the backdrop of the two-year Palestinian "intifadah" or uprising.
"This is an act against peace, an act of incitement and an insult to 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. It reflects the hatred of the U.S. administration towards the Palestinians," said UAE-based Palestinian businessman Mohmoud Mansour.
"Given the significance of the city to Muslims (Al Aqsa Mosque), Christians (Church of the Holy Sepulcher) and Jews (Dome of the Rock), this decision is a catastrophe," he said in an interview. Syria's state-controlled "Tishreen" daily said it was a step towards handing Israel the West Bank and other Arab land, including Lebanon's Shebaa farms and Syria's Golan Heights.
The legislation adds three mandatory provisions which change the way the United States treats the city. First, it says money cannot be spent on the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem unless the consulate is under the supervision of the U.S. ambassador to Israel. The U.S. consul-general, who deals mainly with Palestinians, now reports to the State Department.
Second, any U.S. government document, which lists countries and their capitals, will have to identify Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Third, in U.S. documents such as passports, birth certificates and nationality certifications, U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem may insist that their place of birth be recorded as Israel.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the Congress sprang the act on the Bush administration, which, due to its total preoccupation with Iraq, failed to block such provisions as previous administrations had done. The relaxation of the siege around Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah last week was also factored into the decision, feels Ghassan Al Jashi, a political analyst from Al Itihad in the United Arab Emirates said.
"Israel withdrew after pressure from the United States, which found the going tough in its efforts to build a coalition against Iraq with Arafat under house arrest. That move did not go well with the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington. With congressional elections due next month, the 'damage' was undone through this legislation," he said in an interview.
Jashi added: "Every U.S. president since the 1960s has directly or indirectly said that he favored moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But few, aware that it would be touching off a powder keg, took any concrete step towards that goal despite pressure."
Numerous non-binding resolutions adopted by Congress since 1967 have called for the move, triggering widespread Arab and Muslim protests, he said. "However, this time, the law that binds the Bush administration to bring the Palestinian-specific U.S. consulate in Arab East Jerusalem under the jurisdiction of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv -- thus recognizing occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel -- comes at a crucial juncture."
"Palestinians have been cornered into Israeli military control in an unprecedented manner and Washington seems to be deaf to the Arab voice in the din of the anti-Muslim sentiments whipped up after Sept. 11, 2001," Jashi said. "The congressional move has been engineered based on Israel's conviction that the time might be ripe to push for legitimizing its occupation of the eastern sector of the city."
Dr. Khaliq Abdulla, professor of political science at the Emirates University, said: "The Bush administration continues to hold that under the Sept. 13, 1993 Oslo accord, 'final status' talks between Palestinians and Israelis should settle the issue of sovereignty over the city. However, this is in danger of being undermined if Washington comes to agree with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Oslo is dead."
According to Abdulla, by reoccupying the Palestinian self-rule enclaves and demolishing the Palestine National Authority, Sharon believes he has nullified the Oslo peace process, which gave the Palestinians the right to stake their claim to East Jerusalem and to negotiate the final status of the city.
"The Congressional initiative is designed to complement Sharon's policy by eliminating U.S. recognition of the separate status of occupied East Jerusalem. If Congress coerces the president and State Department to place the East Jerusalem consulate under Tel Aviv, this would constitute U.S. recognition of East Jerusalem as part of Israel's capital," Abdulla said in an interview.
"This development would, in fact, be more dangerous than transferring the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem, which would constitute recognition of only the western part of the city as Israel's capital. Therefore, the Arabs should exert maximum effort to maintain the independence of the East Jerusalem consulate," he added.
Bush may or may not help Israel realize its goal, but the law has been signed, setting a firm foundation for the Jewish state to demand its implementation, and that is where the real danger lurks.
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