Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) ushered in the new Congressional session by proposing legislation Tuesday to force the Obama administration to change longstanding US policy and move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim.
The bill, which stands little chance of surviving both Congress and the presidential veto pen, nonetheless represents the opening shots from a newly Republican Congress that has vowed to challenge presidential authority on key foreign policy questions.
It also comes as the Supreme Court readies to rule on a high profile case which could determine Congress’s ability to shape foreign policy and force the State Department to change course and recognize Jerusalem’s status on passports of Americans born in the city.
The Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2015 seeks to force the executive branch to uphold the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which calls for the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to the Israeli capital, but has been pushed off by pro forma presidential measures since.
“Almost fifteen years ago Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate,” Cruz, the bill’s cosponsor, wrote in a statement Tuesday. “It is my hope that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle support this important bill. It is long past due for our government to finally and unequivocally recognize Israel’s historical capital both in word and deed.”
Introduced late last week, the bill is headed for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, although there is no date scheduled for work to begin on advancing the legislation.
The bill’s stated purpose is “to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to relocate to Jerusalem the United States Embassy in Israel, and for other purposes,” and in addition to removing the ability of the president to delay moving the embassy, it includes a statement of policy that “it is the policy of the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel, both de jure and de facto.”
In practice, the bill strikes the language in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 that gave the president waiver authority to delay the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the grounds that it would harm national security interests.
Every president since Bill Clinton has signed a presidential waiver every six months in order to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, citing concerns that a move to Jerusalem would upset the prospects for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The bill would also require any official government document which lists countries and their capital cities to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and proposes a partial freeze of State Department building funds until an embassy is constructed in Jerusalem.
The US has been reluctant to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, and the CIA factbook notes that “Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950, but the US, like all other countries, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.”
Heller’s legislation is similar to a 2011 attempt in the House to pass the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2011. That bill, which was cosponsored by 14 members of Congress, also sought to discontinue the Presidential waiver authority and thus effectively force the embassy’s move. That bill, however, did not make it out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In the new political environment in Washington, the embassy bill has a chance of passing both houses of Congress, where Republican lawmakers are jostling to challenge aspects of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. It will almost certainly, however, be felled by a presidential veto.
Read more: The Times of Israel