On a leafy street near Jerusalem’s Old City, armed men with earpieces are always pacing in front of an aging two-story villa. A row of black SUVs are always waiting outside. What is this building at 18 Gershon Agron Road?
An American flag flies on the roof. And it’s sitting in the middle of Israel’s capital. So the place must be the US embassy, right? Think again. This is where US diplomats work but you’re not allowed to call it an embassy. There is no US embassy in the capital.
To find the official embassy, head to the beach in Tel Aviv. Along the waterfront, you’ll find the fortified embassy sitting next to a college-style bar called Mike’s Place.
What’s wrong with this diplomatic geography?
Under international law, every country has the right to designate its own capital. Jerusalem is the only designated capital not recognized by the US Government.
The Obama Administration refused to move the embassy during the past four years. President Obama believes moving the embassy would legitimize Israel’s claim to Jerusalem and thereby taint America’s “honest broker” status with the Palestinians. He’s preserving Jerusalem as a bargaining chip for “final status” negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Clinton also deferred the move, prompting the US Congress to step in. In 1995, it passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act to force the US State Department to relocate the embassy.
The deadline to relocate was May 31, 1999. Israel is still waiting.
Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton all used a legal loophole to suspend relocation every six months “in the interest of national security.” However, President Obama left out a symbolic statement included in the Bush and Clinton memoranda. He deleted the line: “My Administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”
A similar clause was also dropped from the 2012 Democratic Party platform. A surprise vote during the convention to restore the language was met with loud boos from many delegates.
“It’s unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama''s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel''s capital," stated Mitt Romney at the time.
Romney made headlines by doing something the Obama Administration refuses to do -- acknowledge Jerusalem’s status as the capital. "A nation has the capacity to choose its own capital city, and Jerusalem is Israel''s capital," Romney declared during his Israel trip in July.
Romney realizes that Palestinians don’t just want East Jerusalem. They want all of Jerusalem. In fact, they want all of Israel.
Israel’s crown jewel is Jerusalem’s Old City, a spiritual epicenter for all three major religions. The Old City contains the holiest site in Judaism (the Kotel), the holiest site in Christianity (Church of the Holy Sepulcher), and the third holiest site in Islam (Dome of the Rock).
When Jordan controlled the Old City from 1948 to 1967, it destroyed religious freedom. More than fifty synagogues were destroyed or ransacked. Christians were only allowed to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher once a year. The Quran was required reading in Christian schools.
After the Six Day War in 1967, Israel regained control of the Old City and began a policy of religious tolerance that continues to this day. In fact, Israel voluntarily ceded control the Temple Mount back to the Muslims due to the importance of the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. Millions of Christians and Muslims (many from Arab countries seeking Israel’s destruction) have come to Jerusalem to visit their holy sites whenever they want. Under Israeli law, a violation of any sacred religious space is a crime. Perhaps the best example of Israel’s inclusiveness is 20% of Israel’s population are Arabs (mostly Palestinian) with full citizenship rights and elected representatives in the Knesset.
In Palestinian controlled Gaza, in contrast, Islamic extremists are terrorizing Christians. In 2010, they targeted churches in a terror campaign. Bibles and holy relics were destroyed. This year, several Christians were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. Gaza’s Christians say they live in fear for their lives.
Whoever sits in the Oval Office over the next four years will influence the future of Jerusalem. Will a peace settlement split the Holy City once again into conflict zones? Or will Jerusalem remain whole, a place where religious freedom is protected?
Ari Werth is a leading producer of content examining issues facing the Jewish world. As a leader in the US Jewish community, he’s also innovating Jewish outreach. Ari’s writings appear in
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