There are no settlements in Jerusalem - opinion

Then-senator Frank Lautenberg stated that there are no settlements in Jerusalem in 1991.

 THE MUGHRABI Bridge that leads to the Temple Mount compound with the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock seen in the background in Jerusalem’s Old City.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
THE MUGHRABI Bridge that leads to the Temple Mount compound with the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock seen in the background in Jerusalem’s Old City.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

According to The Jerusalem Post of Thursday, March 17 (incidentally Purim), the Biden administration is reported to have been infuriated at the growth in the number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. I shall leave to others the task of tackling the issue of settlements in the territories, but in common with senator Lautenberg who vent his anger in 1990 at those who talk about settlements in Jerusalem, I shall address the same subject.

The fact is that settlements in Jerusalem simply do not exist. There is no such thing, so consequently, there can’t be any such growth. Lautenberg was one of the mass of congressmen that adopted a concurrent resolution at that time, confirming that Jerusalem “is and should remain” the capital of Israel and “must remain an undivided city.” In speaking on the subject, Lautenberg said: Jordan had attempted to “systematically eliminate all traces of Jewish heritage” from east Jerusalem. “The pain of this shocking desecration has been permanently seared into Jewish memory, creating an unshakable determination never to permit it to happen again. East Jerusalem must remain under Israeli sovereignty and control.”

However, a concurrent resolution is not binding and does not have the force of law. Subsequently, Congress decided to spell matters out, when it overwhelmingly adopted the Embassy Act of 1995, which detailed the following Statement of US Policy: Jerusalem should remain an undivided city and be recognized as capital of Israel, and the US Embassy should be established in Jerusalem.

Among the many supporters of this legislation was one senator by the name of Joe Biden, who maintained that transferring the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would introduce an air of realism into the peace talks. A letter to then-president Bill Clinton by nearly all senators included the following sentence: “The search for peace can only be hindered by raising utterly unrealistic hopes about the future status of Jerusalem among the Palestinians.”

The decision of former president Donald Trump in December 2017, to recognize all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a combined American congressional-executive decision. He deliberately highlighted this point in his announcement. The present decision, Trump suggested, finally put president and Congress in step with one another. At the same time, Trump stressed that the US was not taking a position on any final status issue. However, by the same token, the presence of a US consul in Jerusalem that in practice had served the Arab population was no longer practicable, since the city was one metropolis under one Israeli authority.

 Israeli border police officers guard during riots in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 13, 2022.  (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90) Israeli border police officers guard during riots in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 13, 2022. (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)

In light of all the foregoing, for an ambassador to attempt to unilaterally overturn US policy on Jerusalem and proclaim something that the entire US administration had rejected, would seem to be a brazen disregard of the elected government of the US. There cannot be many occasions when an ambassador seeks to institute his own concept of policy in preference to the sovereign role of the administration.

In addition, it is quite unseemly for an ambassador to attempt to discriminate in the capital of the host country and suggest that its scope of developing the capital city that previously had been under foreign occupation for nineteen years, should be handed over to the invaders again.

To Israel, the talk of settlements in east Jerusalem is quite ridiculous.

For one thing, the returning residents of Jerusalem are part and parcel of the city, as their families were for generations and those who choose to reside with them in a newer part of the city, are no less residents of Jerusalem. No one can deny the Israeli government the right to build and develop the city, as it would any other part of the country. International lawyers, including Stephen M. Schwebel, America’s judge on the International Court of Justice, all confirmed Israel’s title over east Jerusalem. Anyone arguing about settlements is intent on redividing the city, which Israel will not permit. The US has steadfastly maintained that Jerusalem should not be redivided.

Jerusalem is the site of the Holy Temple and of all the sacred sites associated with the Jewish faith. In praying in the direction of Jerusalem it is to those sites that the faithful are bound. The return of Jews to the Jewish Quarter in the Old City restored a centuries-old link and re-enabled the former residents to reestablish the houses of prayer that had served as beacons of Torah study and prayer for generations.

Anyone thinking that Jews will once again relax their hold on this holy site are deluding themselves. Jerusalem is holy because of Jewish history and in its unity it is a permanent memorial to the abiding faith of the Jewish people.

The writer is the James G. McDonald Professor of American History, Emeritus at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of Jerusalem in America’s Foreign Policy (Kluwer Law International, 1998).