A view of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
DONALD TRUMP’S shock election victory has caused suspense and concern in the United States, around the world and even in Israel. Four years of uncertainty await with regard to the policies and insights of the president-elect and his team. Into that volatile mix comes the possibility that Trump will decide within the coming weeks to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
One of Trump’s first nominations was that of David Friedman, a Jewish bankruptcy lawyer who has worked with the president- elect for the past 15 years, as the next Ambassador of the US to Israel. Friedman, like others in the Trump camp, has said repeatedly that the President-elect is committed to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem as soon as possible.
Is such a move feasible? Moving the embassy to Jerusalem has been a staple promise of American presidential candidates for decades. The question is why did the move never actually take place.
The embassy has always been in Tel Aviv, and the US has never recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Furthermore, the US consulate general in Jerusalem has operated there since 1844, providing diplomatic representation and consular services in the Ottoman period, during the British Mandate, Jordanian rule – and for the past 50 years during Israeli rule over east Jerusalem.
Since the inception of the Palestinian Authority with its administrative capital in Ramallah, the consulate general in Jerusalem serves as a de facto embassy to the PA, and operates independently of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, which represents the administration vis-à-vis Israel. This division of roles is an American statement to both Israel and the PA concerning its commitment to “two states,” Israel and Palestine, on the basis of the armistice lines in place until the 1967 war.
At this point, a short history reminder is in place. Resolution 181 – The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine taken November 29, 1947, divides the territory of Mandatory Palestine into three parts: a Jewish state, an Arab state and a Corpus Separatum, a special international regime for the city of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and their environs.
The War of Independence, which ended with the armistice agreement, rendered the UN plan to govern the city irrelevant. The armistice agreement, marked on maps in green and hence known as the Green Line, cut Jerusalem in two. Shortly after, in May 1949, David Ben-Gurion asked the UN to annul the General Assembly resolution on an international regime for the city, and to divide it between its Arab and Jewish halves. Even though the decision on a Corpus Separatum was never implemented, it remains valid until the desire of the international community to see Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestine can be achieved.
The UN Security Council on December 23 adopted Resolution 2334, labeling all settlement activity over the Green Line, including east Jerusalem, as illegal and a fundamental impediment to the twostate solution and peace. Netanyahu bitterly criticizes Obama for breaking with the long-standing pattern of vetoing UNSC anti-Israel resolutions – a resolution that passed 14-0 with the US abstaining – while at the same time calling on the incoming Trump administration to break with the policy of previous administrations and move its embassy to Jerusalem.
The presence of the US Embassy in Jerusalem at the same time as other embassies remain in Tel Aviv – in light of the unresolved issues regarding the international status of the disputed city – would be in direct contradiction of deep-rooted US policy that does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over greater Jerusalem.
On July 30, 1980, the Knesset passed the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, extending Israeli sovereignty to greater Jerusalem in the boundaries set unilaterally by Israel immediately following the Six Day War. Within three weeks, the UN responded on August 20 with resolution 478, condemning the move as a violation of international law. The American administration under Jimmy Carter abstained allowing a 14-0 motion to pass.
Moving the embassy and the ambassador’s residence to Jerusalem prior to completion of a peace agreement would be a gross violation of the US position as an impartial mediator in any diplomatic process. Therefore, the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem should and indeed must happen, but only after a peace agreement is in place and the occupation ended, with a Palestinian capital, and a US Embassy to Palestine, in East Jerusalem. Ilan Baruch is a diplomatic adviser to the head of the Meretz Party, chairperson of the ‘Policy Working Group’ – an advocacy team, and a former Israel ambassador to South Africa