On Jerusalem, US policy remains unchanged and unreal
The refusal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is actually a decades-old policy which bears no relation to peace negotiations.
Jerusalem's old city Photo: Thinkstock/Imagebank
Even if he hadn’t advocated moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, Republican
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney proved something that has vexed US
spokespeople for decades: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and it’s no biggie
to say so.
Romney accomplished this during his visit to Israel, stating
on Sunday, “it is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of
Israel.” This simple statement strongly contrasted with White House Press
Secretary Jay Carney’s refusal last week to answer a reporter’s question
regarding which city the US considers Israel’s capital. Carney only repeated
“Our policy has not changed.” (Reporter: “Can you give us an answer? What do you
recognize?” Carney: “Our position has not changed.”)
In March, a similarly
comedic standoff took place with State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland
who refused to state that Jerusalem was even part of Israel. (Reporter: “Is it
the State Department’s position that Jerusalem is not part of Israel?” Nuland:
Well you know, our position on Jerusalem has not changed.”) This refusal to
recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel even includes Western Jerusalem, which has
been part of Israel since 1948 and which served as Israel’s capital since 1950.
This contradicts US President Barack Obama’s call for a solution in which Israel
returns to the pre-’67 borders, whereby at least Western Jerusalem would remain
part of Israel.
Much as it seems that some kind of speech disorder must
be behind the official position, there is an alleged policy-rationale. According
to that rationale the status of Jerusalem is something which should be
determined by the parties in negotiations – and the US will not “prejudice the
outcome of negotiations,” even if that means merely recognizing that Jerusalem
is part of Israel.
This rationale does not make the position any less
ridiculous. It makes it insulting. It rejects the threemillennia- old status of
Jerusalem as the center of the Jewish people’s national-cultural-religious life
and the center of the modern Jewish nationalist movement, which was named after
Zion, i.e. Jerusalem, long before a Palestinian people was ever claimed to
exist. Insult to national identity aside, it denies Israel’s sovereign
right to choose its capital and further subjects that right to the veto of the
What’s more infuriating is that the refusal to
recognize Jerusalem is actually a decades-old policy which bears no relation to
negotiations between the parties. According to a 1962 State Department
memorandum, Israel’s establishment of Jerusalem as its capital in 1950 violated
UN General Assembly resolutions and “the status of Jerusalem is a matter of
United Nations concern and no member of the United Nations should take any
action to prejudice the United Nations’ interest in this question.
memo continues, stating that the US opposes the resolution of the issue through
The original decision against moving the US embassy to
Jerusalem may be even more untenable. According to State Department
papers released in 1983 (“Foreign Relations of the United States 1952- 1954,”
Vol. V), on July 16, 1953, four days after Israel’s Foreign Ministry moved its
offices to Jerusalem, Secretary of State John Dulles met with British Acting
Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury.
During the meeting Dulles explained,
“We do not intend to move our embassy to Jerusalem and we will probably wait for
Israeli officials to come to our embassy rather than send embassy
representatives to Jerusalem for the conduct of business,” reasoning “after all
we [are] considerably more important to them than they to us.”
More outrageous is the 1962 memo’s revelation that the US lobbied other countries
against establishing embassies in Jerusalem. It stated that “when the Department
learns that a government for the first time is contemplating the establishment
of a diplomatic mission in Israel, we inform that government of the historical
background of United Nations’ attitudes toward Jerusalem and express the hope
that, in deference to United Nations’ attitudes, its mission will be established
in Tel Aviv, where most other missions are located.”
sanctity of the UN rationale remained at least until the signing of the Oslo
Accords in 1993, when the concept of a negotiated settlement with the PLO became
The swapping of policy rationales betrays the fact that the
true rationale is probably not about the UN, a just settlement, or international
law – but some other goal, such as appeasing the Arabs or reining in perceived
Even accepting the stated rationale as sincere,
the policy is still counterproductive.
By shielding negotiations from
long-established facts on the ground, the US in effect encourages the
Palestinians to take extreme positions which lack any basis in reality. This in
turn makes a final-status agreement between the parties less likely to be
This was the Obama administration’s mistake in demanding a
settlement freeze even in major settlement blocs which no one seriously
envisions being destroyed. By PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s own account, Obama’s
call for a full freeze led Abbas to make such a freeze a precondition to
Palestinian participation in negotiations.
Thus the 10-month freeze,
which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “unprecedented,” created a new
precedent for Palestinian demands.
Furthermore, treating negotiations as
if they were taking place in 1947-49 prejudices the outcome of those
negotiations, enabling the Palestinians to act as if (and even believe that)
Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, or part thereof, is something which can be
undone or which Israel should have to pay for in the final-status
This goes for other unrealistic positions on the right of
return, Israel’s Jewish character or settlements.
In reality, the
existence of major Jewish population blocs in Judea and Samaria, the inability
of the grandchildren of Palestinian refugees to immigrate to Israel, Israel’s
existence as a Jewish state and Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem are
accomplished facts whether or not the Palestinians, the US or the UN recognize
them, or whether a final-status agreement is ever concluded.
this reality is recognized, the sooner a just and lasting peace can be
Daniel Tauber is director of Likud Anglos.