Yoram Ettinger at the Jerusalem Conference
Yoram Ettinger at the Jerusalem Conference(Photo: Ezra HaLevi)

Former Israeli Consul General to the US Yoram Ettinger revealed at the Jerusalem Conference Wednesday that Israel prevented a move that would have relocated the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

“The US Senate was ready to do away with the waiver that allows the president to defer the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem,” Ettinger said during a round-table discussion at the Jerusalem Conference. “There were over 80 senators – enough to override any [presidential] veto.”

It was the Israeli government, Ettinger said, who intervened on behalf of leaving the Embassy in Tel Aviv. “The problem is that both houses of congress have been firmer on Jerusalem than any Israeli government since 1993.”

Ettinger did not elaborate which Israeli government it was that told Congress to stand down.

History of the Act and Waiver

US Congress overwhelmingly approved the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act in 1995, mandating that the Embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 1999 and that the US recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Currently, all the nations with which Israel has diplomatic relations refuse to recognize Israel’s Basic Law designating Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State.

Former US President Bill Clinton, who promised in both of his presidential campaigns to move the embassy, signed successive six-month security waivers, thus passing on the "hot potato" to his successor.

During the 2000 election campaign, US President George W. Bush pledged that if he was elected, he would "begin the process" of moving the embassy to Jerusalem on his "first day in office." He has not done so, however - invoking the waver for the 13th time on December 12, 2007.

After the failed Camp David talks in July 2000, Clinton suggested in an interview with Israeli television that he was considering moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. "I have always wanted to do it. I've always thought it was the right thing to do. But I didn't want to do anything to undermine the peace process ... But it's something that I have taken under review now because of the recent events," Clinton told the Israeli public. In reaction, Hizbullah terror chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah threatened the US that he would "turn your embassy into rubble and return your diplomats in coffins."

Ettinger: Defiance Sometimes Needed in US-Israel Relations

“[Israel’s first prime minister, David] Ben Gurion defied the UN, the US and Europe by building on the Green Line in Jerusalem,” Ettinger said. “[His successor] Levi Eshkol decided to build satellite neighborhoods, knowing full well that they included Arab neighborhoods within the future municipal boundaries.

The true demographic threat in Jerusalem is the freezing of Jewish building and the limitations placed on the natural growth of the capital by diplomatic initiatives, Ettinger explained. “[Eshkol] realized that unless you expand the border of Jerusalem, including Arab neighborhoods – you wont have the area required to allow Jerusalem to expand. Without building to the east, it is impossible to reverse the trend of Jewish emigration from the capital.”