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S. 11 (115th): Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act

The U.S. maintains embassies in almost every country around the world, virtually all of which are located in that nation’s capital. A 1995 law mandated that the U.S. move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv, Israel’s fourth-largest city of 250 thousand, to Jerusalem, its capital and largest city of 800 thousand. Yet in the 22 years since, the three presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all invoked a provision in the law that delays the move if they deem it in the national security interest.

Some in Congress have had enough and can’t wait any longer. S. 11, theJerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act, provides President-elect Donald Trump with an ultimatum. Either move the embassy to Jerusalem, or we drastically cut security for all embassies around the world.

What the bill does

Upon passage of the bill, funding for security, maintenance, and construction for all American embassies would be cut in half until the Israeli one is relocated. Then if it hasn’t been moved by October 1, starting on that date funding for security, maintenance, and construction for all embassies would be _entirely _eliminated — except at the Israeli embassy.

Introduced by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) in conjunction with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), the bill has attracted six cosponsors, all Republicans.

What supporters say

Supporters, so far entirely Republicans, argue that the bill is a necessary move to affirm our unwavering support and understanding of Israel, our strongest ally in an unstable Middle East region which is largely otherwise home to enemies, civil wars, death, destruction, and chaos.

“For years, I’ve advocated for America’s need to reaffirm its support for one of our nation’s strongest allies by recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. It honors an important promise America made more than two decades ago but has yet to fulfill,” Senate lead sponsor Heller said in a statement. “While Administrations come and go, the lasting strength of our partnership with one of our strongest allies in the Middle East continues to endure.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports a Jerusalem embassy, calling the plan “great.” President-elect Trump also supports moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

What opponents say

The opposition to this bill doesn’t deny the importance of the U.S.-Israeli partnership, but worries that declaring Jerusalem as the capital would have significant foreign policy consequences. For one, they say, it would preventthe Palestinians from establishing a state including any part of the city. That in turn would render the “two-state solution” — generally believed to be the most culturally, geographically, and politically viable option for peace there — impossible.

They also say that such a U.S. move would be unnecessarily antagonistic, especially to parties that would need to be at the table for any successful Middle East peace deal, as well as to erstwhile allies who nonetheless have contentious relationships with Israel. The country of Jordan told Trump that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would constitute “a red line,” while the Palestinian Authority announced they would interpret such a move as “an act of war.” Some countries might also pull their American embassies out of Washington, D.C. in retaliation, harming American relations with those nations.

The most recent three U.S. presidents all campaigned on pledges to move the embassy, but they all backtracked once in office for fear of violent reactions in the Middle East and the Arab world. Similar concerns abound regarding the current proposal. But while Bush visited a mosque less than a week after 9/11 and Obama made sure that Seal Team Six disposed of bin Laden’s body in a manner befitting Muslim custom, Trump in both his rhetoric and policies towards Muslims appears to care little or none about treading lightly on Muslims’ preferences.

Others oppose Heller’s bill on the grounds that, while they support moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the sanction of potentially removing the security funding from all U.S. embassies globally would be too catastrophic a consequence for failing to get it done by October 1. That’s especially true after the 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya which killed four American embassy workers there including the Ambassador, Chris Stevens.

Odds of passage

The bill has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where it awaits a vote. Lead sponsor Heller had previously introduced the legislation in the past three Congresses, but it never received a vote in the committee. The bill’s original 2011–12 iteration attracted five cosponsors, followed by six cosponsors in the 2013–14 iteration, then seven cosponsors in the 2015–16 bill.

Only a week into the new Congress, a few other bills that would relocate the embassy to Jerusalem have been introduced, including H.R. 257 introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ8) which has two cosponsors, both Republicans, and H.R. 265 introduced by Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ7) with no cosponsors yet.

Last updated Jan 13, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 3, 2017.


Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act

This bill states that it should be U.S. policy to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

The bill expresses the sense of Congress that: (1) Jerusalem must remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected as they have been by Israel, (2) every Israeli citizen should have the right to reside anywhere in Jerusalem, (3) the President and the Department of State should affirm as a matter of U.S. policy that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel, (4) the President should implement the provisions of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and begin the process of relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, (5) U.S. officials should refrain from actions that contradict U.S. law on this subject, and (6) any official U.S. government document that lists countries and their capital cities should identify Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 is amended to eliminate the President's authority to waive certain funding limitations for State Department acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad until the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has officially opened.

The bill: (1) prohibits more than 50% of the amounts appropriated to the State Department for FY2017 for embassy security, construction, and maintenance from being obligated until the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has officially opened; and (2) restricts the availability and expenditure of amounts authorized for such purpose for FY 2018 and FY2019 to construction and other costs associated with the establishment of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.