When President George W. Bush signed the Foreign Relations Authorization Act in the fall of 2002, it produced a mild diplomatic crisis. The Act put Congress on record as considering Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Both Palestinians and Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital; it’s an axiom of Middle East politics (and the position of successive U.S. administrations) that the city’s status must be settled by negotiations, and anything that seems to prejudge the issue is regional dynamite. The legislation that Bush approved , among other things, required the State Department to offer U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem the choice of listing “Israel” on their U.S. birth record (a document proving citizenship) and U.S. passport under “place of birth.”
Yasir Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, called the law a “catastrophe.” The secretary-general of the Arab League, the government of Saudi Arabia, and the foreign minister of Russia were only slightly less harsh. Hamas called for mass demonstrations in the Gaza Strip. In general, it was a shaky moment for U.S. diplomacy.
In signing the law, Bush announced that he would not abide by the passport provision; and indeed, neither his administration nor that of Barack Obama has followed the birthplace requirement. Both have argued that only the president can recognize, even implicitly, that Jerusalem is part of Israel.