President George W. Bush will soon have two outstanding opportunities to apply the ideals of American democracy to the Middle East. In one, he can tell the heirs of Yasser Arafat that crime does not pay. In the other, he can tell the world that the United States recognizes the capital of its ally Israel.
In mid-December, the president will have to decide whether once again to waive a section of the 2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, passed by Congress to downgrade the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in the United States. Section 1003 of the act prohibits the establishment anywhere within the jurisdiction of the United States of an office “to further the interests of” the PLO.
U.S. law forbids funding the PLO, because it has been branded a terrorist organization and a threat to U.S. interests. Bush last invoked his power to waive the sanction on June 25 by stating, “that it is in the national security interest of the United States.” The waiver is effective for 180 days.
Such a policy has dangerous implications. Most ominously, it signals that Bush is not prepared to withhold U.S. aid to the Palestinians as punishment for acts of terrorism against Israelis. Apparently, rewarding terrorists despite their heinous actions is somehow considered to be in the national security interest of the United States. Somehow, Americans will be more secure if their government shows terrorists they will receive a payoff, no matter what crimes they commit.
This blatantly contradicts what the president told cheering troops on the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. Bush said:
Any person, organization, or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent and equally guilty of terrorist crimes. Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction is a grave danger to the civilized world and will be confronted.
If the United States chooses not to confront but to reward its enemies in such a fashion, it should come as no surprise when it penalizes its friends. Congress set the official U.S. policy toward Jerusalem on Oct. 23, 1995. On that day, the Senate voted 93-5 and the House voted 374-37 that it should remain a united city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected; that it should be recognized as the capital of the state of Israel; and that the U.S. Embassy should be established there no later than May 31, 1999.
A month after he signed the first waiver of U.S. policy on Jerusalem on June 17, 1999, then-president Clinton explained why he did so at a White House press conference with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak:
That’s part of the final-status talks. The United States, as a sponsor of the peace process, has asked the parties to do nothing to prejudge final-status issues. We certainly should be doing nothing to prejudge the final-status issues.
In violation of the overwhelmingly bipartisan determination of Congress, Clinton decided that, unlike any other country in the world, Israel could not choose its own capital. What an arrogant and anti-democratic determination for an American president to make.
In the language of the Jerusalem Embassy Act:
(Section 15) The United States maintains its embassy in the functioning capital of every country except in the case of our democratic friend and strategic ally, the State of Israel. (16) The United States conducts official meetings and other business in the city of Jerusalem in de facto recognition of its status as the capital of Israel. (17) In 1996, the State of Israel will celebrate the 3,000th anniversary of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem since King David’s entry.
How does recognizing one of the oldest capitals in the world endanger U.S. security? Conversely, how does not recognizing it protect America from terrorists? Did denying recognition of Israel’s eternal capital keep Osama bin Laden from attacking the World Trade Center? Will continuing to do so appease Arab rage over Iraq?
This invocation of national security is nothing but a smokescreen to cover America’s unwillingness to do the right thing, in the mistaken belief that giving in to what it imagines would be the response of the Arab countries would somehow placate them and encourage the so-called “peace process.” But this ignores the simple truth that Arab bigots do not want the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, because they do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
During the 2000 election campaign, Bush pledged he would “begin the process” of moving the embassy on his “first day in office.” Such are campaign promises. But the failure to recognize Jerusalem is both a violation of U.S. law and a craven surrender to Arab terrorist threats. In the midst of America’s war on worldwide terrorism, it is vital to send a message that the United States will not surrender to terrorist blackmail.
Indeed, it is the very refusal to move the Embassy that undermines national security because it encourages terrorists to believe that the threat of violence will force America to change the righteous policy on Jerusalem determined by Congress.
In response to Arafat’s death, the White House announced: “We have a new opportunity before us to move forward on the ‘Road Map’ and get to the two-state vision that the president outlined.” The Road Map calls for eastern Jerusalem to be given to the PLO and become the capital of an Islamic state. The only way to stop the re-division of Jerusalem, the City of David, is for President Bush to allow the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act to take effect.