Ron Kampeas
Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)
November 29, 2011 - 1:00am

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), appointed to his job when his predecessor John Ensign resigned in scandal, faces a tough election battle next year against Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.).

His is one of only two likely Dem pickups (the other is Massachusetts).

Now he's got a Jerusalem bill that, barely noticed, just might become law.

One of Berkley's fortes is her uncompromising pro-Israelism.

Which may help explain (I've asked Heller's office for an interview) his decision in September to introduce a bill that would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Aha, you say, but there already is such a law.

The difference is that Heller's proposed bill would strip the existing law of the waiver every president since Clinton has used, citing national security considerations. The idea is that recognizing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem absent a final-status deal with the Palestinians would set off a Muslim world firestorm and would kill the peace process.

Heller's bill, as initially proposed, would have also cut by 50 percent State Department funding for maintaining embassies until the embassy is moved.

The proposed bill went virtually unnoticed; It has only three co-sponsors, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas.).

The bill is not nuanced; it makes no bones about Jews settling wherever they like in the city:

Every citizen of Israel should have the right to reside anywhere in the undivided city of Jerusalem

This goes beyond the policy of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, whose spokesmen have told me in the past he is working to allow non-Israeli Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem to be able to live in Jewish neighborhoods anywhere in the city. Heller's bill flags only "citizens of Israel."

The bill also doesn't leave much room for ceding Arab neighborhoods to a Palestinian state:

The President and the Secretary of State should publicly affirm as a matter of United States policy that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the State of Israel;

Aha, you say again, this is par for the course -- why, as we speak, there are three similar bills pending in the House, and past Congresses are littered with same.

Yes, except none of them has been proposed as amendments to the Senate's Defense Authorization Bill, which is assured passage.

This happened on Nov. 18. Heller's bill was rewritten as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill and co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn), (giving it the patina of bipartisanship, because Joe caucuses with the Dems).

As far as I can make out, the threat to cut State Department funding has been removed, but otherwise, the language remains the same. (CORRECTION: In fact, the amendment refers to the original bill, which includes the 50 percent cut -- so the "stick" remains in.)

Now, the amendment could be put to debate and removed.

I've spoken to a couple of pro-Israel types. No one believes that will happen, not in an election year.

The likelier event is that it will be killed, quietly, in House-Senate conference.

But that brings this potentially Mideast-roiling language within a hair's breadth of passage.


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