Text size

The Bush administration on Tuesday ignored congressional instructions that it change the way it treats the city of Jerusalem, arguing that the instructions were merely non-binding recommendations.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem continued to report directly to Washington, not to the U.S. ambassador to Israel as specified by legislation President George W. Bush signed on Monday.

Neither has the U.S. government changed its documents, such as its consular information sheets, to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Boucher told a daily briefing.

"The consul general in Jerusalem reports directly to Washington. We consider the language in the bill that would change that to be advisory rather than required. Therefore, we continue to keep things the way they are.

"Our policies have not changed, our sheets have not changed, our papers have not changed, our whatever it is has not changed," Boucher said.

Bush signed into law on Monday the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for 2003, despite the inclusion of language which appears to mandate changes in Jerusalem policy.

The law said that the consul general should report to the ambassador, that government documents should identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that Americans born in Jerusalem can insist that their place of birth be listed as Israel.

In an accompanying statement, Bush said the administration would interpret the provisions as advisory. "Such provisions, if construed as mandatory rather than advisory, would impermissibly interfere with the President's constitutional authorities to conduct the nation's foreign affairs", the president added.

Arab world angry over billOfficials in the Arab world reacted in anger on Tuesday to U.S. legislation that encouraged recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, warning that it would complicate peace efforts and could cost lives.

President George W. Bush also expressed strong reservations a day earlier as he signed a spending bill that urges his administration to shift the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which both the Palestinian and Israelis consider their capital. He said the clauses had no force because they violate his constitutional authority.

Saeb Erekat, a member of the Palestinian Cabinet, said Bush's signing of the bill "undermines all efforts being exerted to revive the peace process and put it back on track."

He called it "a flagrant violation" of agreements signed by the United States and Israel to negotiate the permanent status of Jerusalem.

"This is an act against peace, an act of incitement," Palestinian Planning and International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath told Reuters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"It is against the commitment of the United States, contrary to international law, contrary to agreements signed by the United States. This is really totally unhelpful and obstructs any move towards the peace process," he said, calling the U.S. legislation "an insult to the Arab and Muslim world."

There was no immediate Israeli reaction to the bill.

The militant Palestinian group Islamic Jihad said the move "reflects the frank antagonism of the U.S. administration toward the rights of Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs to Jerusalem, and reveals its outrageous bias for the Zionist usurper entity".

In Beirut, Lebanon's most prominent Shi'ite Muslim cleric said the United States should pay a steep price for the law. "This decision is a blow to the Arab and Muslim worlds, and we call for a strong stance against U.S. policy so that America will know that its contempt for Arabs and Muslims and its unwavering commitment to Israel will cost a great deal politically," Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah told Reuters.

Fadlallah, former spiritual guide to Hezbollah, said the decision proved that U.S. policy was one of slavish devotion to Israel in its conflict with Palestinians.

Qatar, current head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, condemned the law as "a flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem". But a Qatari foreign ministry official told the state-run Qatar News Agency that his country was satisfied with Bush's affirmation that U.S. policy on Jerusalem remained the same.

An Egyptian official said Bush was in a tricky position because vetoing the bill would scupper the funding for U.S. diplomacy around the world. But he said the legislation did not serve peace. "To the contrary, it would ignite further reaction from both the Arab sides and the Palestinians." The official, who asked not to be named, said Egypt took the decision as another signal that the United States was pursuing a "one-eyed policy" that looked only to Israel's interests.

"No one can change the Arab, Egyptian and Muslim position on (east) Jerusalem. It is an occupied, Arab city," he declared.

Kuwait, a close U.S. ally, voiced regret at the legislation. "I know of the pressures inside the United States and we hope this will be amended at a later stage," Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah told reporters.

In the bill, Congress specified for the first time that no funds may be used for the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem unless it is under the supervision of the American ambassador to Israel. It also said no money could be spent on official U.S. documents that listed Israel without identifying Jerusalem as the capital.

Bush himself insisted that "U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed" as he signed the bill on Monday said he would treat the clauses as a recommendation rather than an order.

As an order, Bush said, they would "impermissibly interfere with the president's constitutional authority to conduct the nation's foreign affairs."

The clauses "would be new if they were binding," U.S. Embassy spokesman Paul Patin said by telephone. "We don't consider them as binding."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher indicated that the status of Jerusalem "must be negotiated between the parties," Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem, including sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, after capturing it during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon considers all of Jerusalem Israel's indivisible capital.

The previous, more moderate government of Ehud Barak had offered the Palestinians a share of east Jerusalem - but the sides could never agree on the details, and on other issues, and peace talks broke down in January 2001 after the eruption of violence a few months earlier.

"Such resolutions could mean Palestinian and Israeli lives," Erakat said, adding that the Palestinians would raise the issue with the United Nations Security Council, the Arab League and the Islamic Conference Organization.