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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 12:29 GMT
Bush puts off Israel embassy move
Palestinian holding up a picture of Jerusalem
The status of Jerusalem sparks strong emotions
US President George Bush has postponed for a further six months any moves to relocate the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Congress passed a bill in 1995 that provided for such a move, but it included a clause allowing the president to declare a temporary suspension on the grounds of national security.

Invoking that clause, President Bush said his administration remained committed in the future to moving the embassy.

US embassy in Tel Aviv
President Bush remains committed to relocating the embassy
Relocating the mission to Jerusalem would infuriate the Palestinians and other Arabs, who would see it as making concrete the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital - which goes against the current international consensus.

Israel's supporters in the US have lobbied strongly for the relocation for the same reason.

The postponement comes amid intense US pressure on the Palestinian leadership to clamp down on anti-Israel militants.

The 1948 UN partition resolution which led to Israel's creation as a modern state placed Jerusalem under international control.

Jordanian forces held the Arab eastern half of city after 1948, but that was captured by Israel in 1967 and annexed.

Bone of contention

Both Israel and the Palestinians regard Jerusalem as a symbol of nationhood:

For Israel, it is its undivided capital; the Palestinians see it as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

During the 2000 presidential election campaign, Mr Bush promised to relocate the embassy, but he had to step back from that position upon taking office.

The White House now says it has not decided when the process of moving the diplomatic mission should begin.

Rebuke for Powell

The previous administration of President Clinton also repeatedly invoked the escape clause, in the face of overwhelming hostility in the Arab world.

US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, sparked strong criticism from Gulf states earlier this year when he described Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in an apparent inadvertent reference.

The State Department subsequently said there had been no change in US policy, namely that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved in negotiations.

See also:

04 Sep 00 | Middle East
Arab League warns on Jerusalem
03 Aug 00 | Middle East
Anger at Jerusalem 'embassy plan'
19 Jun 99 | Middle East
Clinton postpones Israel embassy move
18 Jun 99 | Americas
US Congress urges move of embassy
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