Thursday, March 29, 2012

U.S. Has Unfortunately Never Recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

So there's a hubbub about an Obama admin State Department official refusing to say whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, saying "We are not going to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations, including the final status of Jerusalem." It is, as the author of the above article notes, an "amazing" (in the sense of bewildering) position, as the Knesset is well inside West Jerusalem, which is recognized internationally as within the boundaries of the state of Israel. However, despite what certain people like Adam Kredo might have you believe, this is not a new, radical position by the Obama administration.

Rather, it's the exact same position presidents and presidential candidates have been taking since Geula Cohen got the Basic Jerusalem Law passed in 1980. They have consistently pandered to the Jewish community (and perhaps these days, to the evangelical Christian community as well) regarding an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and yet their administrations have consistently refused to recognize Jerusalem (even West Jerusalem) as the capital of Israel.

The Reagan administration:

President Reagan, trying to calm Jewish fears about his Middle East policy, says he prefers to keep Jerusalem undivided under Israel rule but also favors a "Vatican-like solution" to preserve free access to the city's holy sites.

The White House said, however, that Reagan's views about Israeli control did not reflect official U.S. policy, which is for the future of Jerusalem to be determined through negotiations.

An administration official who asked not to be identified said Reagan's remarks represented "a viewpoint that the president is willing to express to Jewish leaders but not one he is willing to translate into policy for the United States.

"The policy is that we don't accept the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem." the official said. "We do not accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

Unsurprisingly, it continued during the George Bush Sr.'s administration.

Jewish settlers accused the State Department of interfering in their efforts to retain control of a housing complex in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

U.S. policy holds that Jerusalem's status must be determined through negotiations among all parties and does not recognize it as the Israeli capital.

To the Clinton administration.

During the campaign:

"Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and must remain an undivided city accessible to all." Clinton said last summer, departing from the Bush administration's position that the city–holy to all three major monotheistic religions–must be determined by negotiations.

During his administration (being attacked by Newt Gingrich when that guy was taking a break from shaking hands with Arafat and cheating on whichever wife he was on at that point).

The question of Jerusalem, claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as their capital, is one of the most explosive in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Clinton administration, like most world governments, has held off recognizing the city as Israel's capital until its final status is settled in peace talks.

To George W. Bush. During the campaign:

Gov. George W. Bush today accused the Clinton administration of taking sides in last year's Israeli election and of trying to make Israel conform to American ''plans and timetables'' for peace. The governor said his own support for Israel was ''not conditional on the outcome of the peace process.''
Mr. Bush, who was repeatedly interrupted by applause, said little on the Middle East that he had not said before. Once again, he pledged that as president he would ''begin the process of moving the U.S. ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital,'' a reference to Jerusalem.

As president, he decided via a "signings statement" that he'd rather unilaterally ignore parts of a law he signed as "non-binding" than do anything to actual recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Bush administration on Tuesday ignored congressional instructions that it change the way it treats the city of Jerusalem, arguing that the instructions were merely non-binding recommendations.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem continued to report directly to Washington, not to the U.S. ambassador to Israel as specified by legislation President George W. Bush signed on Monday.

Neither has the U.S. government changed its documents, such as its consular information sheets, to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Boucher told a daily briefing.
The law said that the consul general should report to the ambassador, that government documents should identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that Americans born in Jerusalem can insist that their place of birth be listed as Israel.

In an accompanying statement, Bush said the administration would interpret the provisions as advisory. "Such provisions, if construed as mandatory rather than advisory, would impermissibly interfere with the President's constitutional authorities to conduct the nation's foreign affairs", the president added.

To Barack Obama. During the campaign:

Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."

and of course, the other day, his administration did the exact same thing all the previous administrations have done.

This fact led the not-at-all-pro-Obama (and presumably in her opinion [if, after this, perhaps not all that many Israelis'], very pro-Israel) Jennifer Rubin to not only defend Obama's administration's position as consistent with previous ones, but to even defend the position itself.

But the ham-handedness and unnecessary eye-poking aside, critics of the Obama administration should be careful on the substance. No American president has made — nor, I would argue, should make — a definitive judgment on the disposition of Jerusalem.

Friends of Israel should not encourage irresponsible and unachievable pandering on the status of Jerusalem. The United States has signed multiple international agreements specifying that Jerusalem is a final-status issue. We only invite fights about apartment buildings and imperil our own ability to influence events by jumping the gun to declare as a matter of U.S. policy what we think the final disposition should be.

This is actually to my left, as I personally would not defend it. No city's municipal boundaries are set in stone. Atlanta (where I live), for instance, has annexed a good deal of territory in the last 60 years, most recently some territory in Southwest Fulton County outside of the Perimeter. And of course today's boundaries of Jerusalem are not the boundaries of Jerusalem 60 years ago (a significant amount of territory on nearly all sides of the city was annexed into the city in the intervening period) which were not the boundaries of Jerusalem 200 years ago (which were essentially those of today's Old City) which were not the boundaries of Jerusalem 2000 years ago when the Second Temple was still standing (if I recall correctly, it took in territory south of today's Old City and left part of today's Old City out). That being said, having a position that a city's municipal boundaries should be up for negotiation should in no way preclude recognizing that city as the capital of a country (Jerusalem, Israel's capital, to be clear) and moving your country's embassy there.

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