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.

July 31, 2012 22:04
Jerusalem's old city

Jerusalem's old city 370. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)


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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.”)

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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 Palestinian Authority.

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.

The memo continues, stating that the US opposes the resolution of the issue through “fait accompli.”

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.”

Presumably, the 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 acceptable.

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 Israeli unilateralism.

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 achieved.

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 agreement.

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.

The sooner this reality is recognized, the sooner a just and lasting peace can be achieved.

Daniel Tauber is director of Likud Anglos.

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