I spent almost all of Tuesday in Jerusalem. It was a lovely day, the bus and light rail connections were quick and convenient, and – thanks to getting off the light rail at the wrong stop – we walked through the Arab market in the Old City for the first time in years. My wife and I went to the Kotel (the Western Wall), and walking back to the city center we happened to pass the American Consulate at 18 Agron St. It made me think.
Although the Consulate provides services to Americans who live in Jerusalem and Judea/Samaria (and Gaza, if there are any Americans there!), its main mission seems to be to serve as the contact point for the US and the Palestinians. Its website touts cultural and educational opportunities for Palestinians only. Indeed, it has been called the “American Embassy to Palestine.” Its mission statement makes this clear:
The U.S. diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, first established in 1844, was designated a Consulate General in 1928. It now represents the United States in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip as an independent mission, with the Consul General serving as chief of mission. We also provide services to American citizens in this district. [my emphasis]
18 Agron St. is on the western side of the Green Line, in the part of Jerusalem that has been under Israeli control since 1948. One would think that a better location for an “Embassy to Palestine” would be in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority. But there it is, in western Jerusalem.
The US State Department does not think any part of Jerusalem, eastern or western, belongs to Israel. As explained in the link, this dates to General Assembly resolutions passed in 1947 (181) and 1949 (303), which called for UN administration of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum. Such resolutions are non-binding, and so far from reality as to be meaningless today. It would at least make sense for the State Department to insist that ownership of eastern Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations between Israel and the PA under the Oslo accords; but the stubborn refusal to admit that Israel is sovereign in western Jerusalem is ludicrous. And the Obama Administration has more than once gone to great lengths to avoid saying that any part of Jerusalem is in Israel.
But it is even worse than that. ‘Palestine’, which is not a state and does not have any claim to western Jerusalem (and only an aspiration to eastern Jerusalem), has a de facto US Embassy there; the real state of Israel, whose seat of government is in Jerusalem, is not permitted to have one. No other country has had its capital denied like this. Only Israel. Only the Jewish state.
The US Congress tried to remedy the situation by passing the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 which states that the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem “no later than May 31, 1999.” Every six months hence the President can ask for a waiver if it is “necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.” As everyone knows, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama all regularly availed themselves of this provision. It isn’t clear why making the Palestinians mad would damage US national security, but three presidents at least pretended to think so.
Interestingly, the law also says that it US policy that,
(1) Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected;
(2) Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel;
But the administrations – especially Obama’s – have not abided by these provisions either. The waiver provision specifically applies only to moving the embassy, so it appears that the administration is in violation of the law by maintaining the corpus separatum policy. Unfortunately, no penalty was legislated, and nobody will arrest them.
Donald Trump, who promised during his campaign that he would move the embassy like all the other presidents since Clinton, has a historic opportunity to end this charade. As in other similar situations – for example, the Temple Mount – the Palestinians establish a precedent by blackmail and actual violence, and then transform the subsequent capitulation into a status quo. From them on, a violation of the status quo becomes unthinkable.
But if anyone can think the unthinkable, it’s Trump. Today support for the Palestinians in the Middle East is at a low ebb, and repercussions would be minimal. All he would have to do is not request a waiver and instruct the State Department to go ahead with the move. It would be interesting indeed to listen as those opposed try to explain or justify their opposition. They certainly can’t do it with appeals to law or logic.
Those who argue that it is a practical necessity to keep the embassy where it is to appease the Palestinians don’t understand them. Nothing short of unconditional surrender can appease the Palestinians. Concessions don’t bring peace, but rather terrorism and demands for more concessions. The best way to reduce violence is to resist blackmail and insist that the world recognize the true narrative, rather than Palestinian fictions.
The truth is that Jerusalem is our capital and has been the capital of Israel since her founding, and has been in a sense the capital city of the Jewish people for thousands of years, whether we controlled it or not.
Trump has a chance to rise to this occasion, end the hypocrisy of three administrations and become a hero to the Jewish people. He can and should affirm his administration’s support of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, and fulfill all of its provisions, both in policy and by his actions.
Don’t miss this opportunity, Mr. Trump. Be a mentsch.