Whatever the final borders with a future Palestinian state, Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital. US policy should recognize this.
In the summer of 2000, Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky and their family performed the ultimate Zionist act and made aliya from the US.
Two years later their son Menachem Binyamin was born at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, located in a part of Jerusalem inside the Green Line.
Congress had just passed a law with a provision titled “United States Policy With Respect to Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel” that says that a US citizen born in Jerusalem may request his or her birthplace to be listed as Israel.
Until then, amazingly, the uncontested official US policy, as dictated by the State Department, had been that only “Jerusalem” could be listed in a Consular Report of Birth Abroad and in passports for US citizens born in the city.
Since the 1947 UN Partition Resolution placed Jerusalem under international control, consecutive US presidents – both Democratic and Republican – have declined to take a position on the status of the city. The parts of Jerusalem that fell under Israeli control in the wake of the War of Independence and the drawing of the 1949 Armistice Lines were never recognized by the US as part of Israeli sovereignty. (The same is true about the parts of Jerusalem that came under Israeli control as a result of the Six Day War.) Now, after Congress acted, the Zivotofskys hoped that Menachem, their only child born in Israel, could have that fact reflected proudly on his passport.
But it was not to be.
After more than a decade of legal struggles, a US federal appeals court ruled this week that Congress’s provision was unconstitutional. Menachem and about 50,000 other American citizens born in Jerusalem are in the same situation.
The US, Israel’s best and most important ally, stubbornly insists on maintaining an anachronistic foreign policy that relates to Israel as if the year were 1947. That policy must change.
While the status of territories that fell into Israel’s hands during the Six Day War remains “disputed” pending a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, there is a broad consensus that the 1949 Armistice Line, or Green Line, includes integral parts of Israel that will remain a part of the Jewish state in any agreement with 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 caving in to extremists in the Arab and Muslim world only encourages ever-more extremist behavior by proving that intimidation works.
Caving in to the extremists also strengthens the Palestinian narrative that views Israel as the aggressor in the War of Independence. In reality, what sparked the fighting that led to Israel’s control over western Jerusalem was a radicalized Palestinian leadership – backed by bellicose Arab nations – who rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan that would have given them a Palestinian state. Instead, the Palestinians made the historic mistake of attempting to snuff out the fledgling Jewish state at birth. Thankfully, they failed. But they refuse to face the consequences of their acts of violence. So does the US.
The US position is also disconnected from the realities on the ground. An aggressive reporter occasionally reveals how untenable the position is by pushing White House officials to say which city the US considers to be Israel’s capital. When that happened last summer, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney simply repeated again and again, “Our policy has not changed.” A similar standoff occurred in March 2012 when State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland refused to state that Jerusalem was a part of Israel.
Just walking around Jerusalem, a city that has flourished and grown beyond recognition for both Jews and Arabs during the years it has been under Israel’s control, one is struck by the absurdity of the US’s position.
The time has come for President Barack Obama to amend America’s policy. Whatever the final borders with a future Palestinian state, Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital. US policy should recognize this, as well as the plain fact that Jerusalem is the most important and holiest city for Jews.
A historic injustice will be righted when young Menachem Zivotofsky and tens of thousands of others will be able to proudly display their Israeliness in a passport issued by a country that has done more than any other to ensure Israel’s security and prosperity.