Drama regarding the Office of Congressional Ethics dominated news coverage yesterday, but something interesting happened in the Senate as well, with the introduction of a new bill to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Of course, similar legislation passed both houses of Congress back in 1995, only to be ignored by three successive presidents. Yesterday’s act aims to force the executive’s hand with the strongest tool Congress has: money.
The bill states that “no more than 50 percent of the amounts appropriated to the Department of State for fiscal year 2017 under the heading ‘Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance’ may be obligated until the Secretary of State determines and reports to Congress that the United States Embassy in Jerusalem has officially opened.” The following two years are even stricter, with no money being allotted for 2018 or 2019 until the Embassy is opened.
The bill also establishes a 30-day timeline from passage until the Secretary of State is required to supply Congress with a complete report on moving the embassy, including where the new site will be, how the land will be acquired, and who will be building it, as well as an estimate of total costs.
Yet one of the bill’s most controversial elements has little to do with the embassy at all. Its preamble stipulates that “Jerusalem must remain an undivided city” and “every citizen of Israel should have the right to reside anywhere in the undivided city of Jerusalem.” This diverges from the international community, whose opinion, as shared in the United Nations resolution from December, is that Israel only has a strong claim of sovereignty over West Jerusalem, so the eastern section of the city is “occupied territory.” The language of Tuesday’s bill would therefore validate all settlements in Jerusalem. That said, the US Congress has no jurisdiction over Israeli or international law and so passage of this section, while controversial, would be mostly symbolic.
The bill had three sponsors: Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). The presence of two major presidential hopefuls from 2016, who are both young enough to be looking toward 2024, alongside a Nevada senator, points toward the involvement of casino magnate and big-money Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. As Politico wrote in 2015, Adelson grew especially close to Rubio during the campaign, instructing him on Israeli affairs, which is “a cause near and dear to the mogul.”