Jerusalem Day celebrations.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
In October 2002, Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky was delivered to his parents Ari and Naomi in Shaare Zedek Medical Center, located in a part of Jerusalem squarely inside the Green Line.
Menachem’s parents had recently made aliya from America in the midst of the second intifada, with suicide bombers blowing themselves up on buses and in cafes throughout the capital. They hoped that their only child born in Israel, the Jewish state, would have that fact reflected proudly on his US passport.
This fall, Menachem will celebrate his bar mitzva, but his US passport will continue to state his place of birth solely as “Jerusalem.” No mention can be made of Israel. The Zivotofsky family’s nearly 13-year endeavor to receive US recognition of a simple fact has come to an end – unless US President Barack Obama takes a step none of his predecessors has taken and reverses American policy since the establishment of Israel 67 years ago.
In its ruling Monday, the US Supreme Court struck down a disputed law passed by Congress in 2002 – just a few weeks before Menachem was born – that says a US citizen born in Jerusalem may request his or her birthplace to be listed as Israel.
According to the Supreme Court ruling, the US Constitution gives the president “recognition power.” This means only the president of the US can speak as the representative of the US in matters of international diplomacy.
According to the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Jerusalem was to be placed under international control. While Israel accepted partition, the Palestinians and neighboring Arab nations rejected the UN resolution and launched a concerted effort to snuff out the Jewish state at its conception.
Parts of Jerusalem that fell under Israeli control following what became known in Israel as the War of Independence and among Palestinians and Arabs as the Nakba or “tragedy” were outlined by the 1949 Armistice Line – or Green Line. These areas include a large part of Jerusalem, but they were never recognized by the US as under Israeli sovereignty.
There are number of ways to allow Menachem to register himself as having been born in Israel without entering into the separation-of-powers dispute between the executive and legislative branches of America’s government. The US president could allow a change in registration policy, while adding a caveat that this change does not reflect official recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.
As US Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Justice Samuel Alito argued in their minority opinion, the law passed by Congress “does not implicate recognition” but “simply gives an American citizen born in Jerusalem the option to designate his place of birth as Israel for purposes of passports and other documents.”
However, the right thing for Obama to do, unlike all of his predecessors since 1949, is to make a bold move and recognize Jerusalem – at least those parts that are inside the 1949 Armistice Line – as part of Israel.
Ostensibly, the State Department’s position on Jerusalem – as presented to the US federal appeals court – is that the “reversal of US policy” could “provoke uproar throughout the Arab and Muslim world and seriously damage our relations.”
But kowtowing to extremists in the Arab and Muslim world only encourages more extremist behavior, because it proves that intimidation works.
Setting policy because of fear of violence also strengthens the Palestinian “Nakba” narrative that views Israel as the aggressor in the 1948 War of Independence. In reality, it was a radicalized Palestinian leadership – backed by bellicose Arab nations – that rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan: the original two states for two peoples. The Palestinians made the historic mistake of attempting to annihilate out the fledgling Jewish state at birth. Thankfully, they failed. But they refuse to face the consequences of their own acts of violence. By refusing to recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel, the US is essentially strengthening this distorted narrative.
Just walking around Jerusalem, a city that has flourished and grown beyond recognition for the betterment of both Jews and Arabs during the years it has been under Israel’s control, one is struck by the sheer absurdity of the US’s position.
The time has come for the Obama administration to amend America’s policy.
Through direct negotiations, Israelis and Palestinians will decide the final borders of Israel and a future Palestinian state. No matter what the outcome, however, parts of Jerusalem always have been and will always remain Israel’s capital. US policy should reflect this simple fact.