FACT CHECK: Israel embassy promise may be empty

AP News
Posted: Dec 08, 2011 12:41 PM
FACT CHECK: Israel embassy promise may be empty

In remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition, GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann made nearly identical promises to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem if they are elected.

The two candidates were appealing Wednesday to a crowd that wanted to hear pledges of unwavering U.S. support for Israel, and in a climate where evangelical primary voters _ among the strongest supporters of Israel _ hold unusual sway. But the promises Gingrich and Bachmann made have a long history of not being kept.

GINGRICH: "So in a Gingrich administration, the opening day, there will be an executive order about two hours after the inaugural address; we will send the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as of that day."

BACHMANN: "My administration will fully recognize Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital, and we will be the first administration ... to finally implement a law passed by Congress requiring State to move their department of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem ... On the day of my inauguration ... I will announce that our embassy will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem."

THE FACTS: A promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has become a standard part of pro-Israel political rhetoric. Similar pledges were made during their campaigns by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. But no administration has ever acted on such a promise once in office.

President Barack Obama, as Clinton and Bush before him, maintains that Jerusalem's status is a matter for negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians. Although candidate Obama never directly promised to move the embassy, it was a tricky subject: Obama drew criticism for saying that Jerusalem would remain the capital of Israel and would remain undivided.

If the United States were to move its embassy in the absence of a peace deal, the act would be a symbolically explosive step. It would be seen as a prejudgment of those negotiations and spark anger throughout the Arab world. It also would destroy any appearance that the U.S. can be a credible and neutral mediator in peace talks.

A 1995 U.S. law recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered the U.S. embassy to move to Jerusalem from a neutral site in nearby Tel Aviv. Using their presidential power, Clinton, Bush and Obama have routinely suspended the relocation of the embassy while saying the U.S. is still committed to doing it.

The U.S. already has a robust consulate in west Jerusalem that functions as a mini-embassy. It is that office that handles dealings with the Palestinians and handles visas and other business for Israelis.

Jerusalem is an ancient city with historic religious sites sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews. Its modern history is tortured: The United Nations proposed international jurisdiction for Jerusalem when it wrote the mandate for a Jewish state in 1947, but the plan fell apart the next year when the 1948 war divided the city between Israeli and Jordanian control. Israel captured the Old City in the 1967 war, reuniting the city under its disputed jurisdiction.

Israel claims all of the city as its capital and maintains the seat of government there. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.