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Saturday, June 2, 2007

Next year in Jerusalem

"Congress Set To Vote on Jerusalem" reads the headline in the N.Y. Sun. This is the U.S. congressional version of a regular rite of American Jewish politics. In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy ActPublic Law 104-45 which was to have forced the U.S. government to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
In 2002, Congress passed the Jerusalem Foreign Relations Authorization ActHR 1646, which had about the same intent as the earlier Embassy act, and the same effect.  Unlike the Embassy act however, this bill had removed the loophole supposedly. It too would remain a dead letter, however. 
Congress can afford to practice this rite, knowing that they will never be called upon to implement it. Congress does not make foreign policy. President Clinton ignored the 1995 bill, using conveniently placed loopholes in the legislation to continue the absurd policy of the U.S. government, which refuses to record that an American born in Jerusalem was born in Israel. President Bush didn't even bother with legal loopholes.
There is an executive version too. Candidates swear they will move the U.S. embassy: "Next year in Jerusalem."  As the U.S. presidential election campaign heats up, there is no doubt that candidates will line up to support the logical position that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. And there is no doubt that, like many Diaspora Jews for 2,000 years, when the time comes for implementation, they will renege on their vows.
Every President since 1980 has gone through the ritual. George Bush is no exception:
As a candidate for president on August 28, 2000, George W. Bush told a B'nai B'rith convention, "Something else will happen should I be elected: as soon as I take office I will begin the process of moving the U.S. ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital."
Don't hold your breath. Bush never moved the embassy of course. When he signed into law the Jerusalem Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 2002, President Bush simply announced that he would treat it as "advisory:"
Section 214, concerning Jerusalem, impermissibly interferes with the President's constitutional authority to conduct the Nation's foreign affairs and to supervise the unitary executive branch. Moreover, the purported direction in section 214 would, if construed as mandatory rather than advisory, impermissibly interfere with the President's constitutional authority to formulate the position of the United States, speak for the Nation in international affairs, and determine the terms on which recognition is given to foreign states. U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed.
Nobody challenged his right to do so. Under the constitution, the President decides foreign policy. Congress grants the funds to carry it out. As illustrated in the recent Iraq war budget showdown, it is almost impossible, in practice, for congress to change foreign policy by withholding funds. The congresspersons who vote for these Jerusalem resolutions know that this is so, the lobbyists who lobby for them know that it is true too, so why does anyone bother? The resolutions have as much effect as notes put into the wailing wall.
Does the "move the embassy to Jerusalem" charade have value as a symbolic reminder of the political power of Israel supporters? Will there one day be a bold innovator who will turn the charade into reality, just as nineteenth century Zionists made "Next Year in Jerusalem" a program of action, rather than a prayer after 2000 years? Or is it rather a futile exercise, that reminds us of a humiliating circumstance: No country in the world recognizes the capital of Israel, not even our greatest ally. No country is willing to grant that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state. Not even Israel's greatest ally. The rationale given for the refusal differ from generation to generation. Here is the current version:
When asked for a comment about the House resolution calling for America to move the embassy, a State Department spokesman, David Foley said, "The State Department position remains unchanged, Jerusalem is a permanent status issue to be negotiated between the parties."
Actually, the position of the United States and of the State Department has changed. They still do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but they find  a different excuse than the one used before the Six Day War. At that time, they didn't recognize West Jerusalem, because of U.N. resolutions that stipulated internationalization of Jeruslalem. Now they don't recognize all of Jerusalem instead.
Not even the Palestinians formally claim West Jerusalem, yet the United States never had an embassy in Jerusalem. The United States did not recognize West Jerusalem as part of Israel before 1967, and it doesn't recognize West Jerusalem today either. The Six Day War changed nothing at all in this respect. In 1947, the UN decreed that Jerusalem would remain a Corpus Separatum, an internationalized city. The relevant UN resolutions are still on the books. If the Israelis and Palestinians ever come to any agreement about Jerusalem, that agreement would be in violation of UN General Assembly resolution 181 and UN General Assembly Resolution 303.  Both resolutions declare that Jerusalem is an international city. Neither the United States nor any other country has ever challenged these unrealistic resolutions.
Can we really fool ourselves into believing the following?
The director of the Orthodox Union's Institute for Public Policy, Nathan Diament, said it "would send a clear message to the administration that it is time to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to its rightful place in Jerusalem. Just as the United States locates its embassy in the duly designated capitals of other nations, so too it should locate its embassy in Israel's recognized capital."
It seems to me that the passage of yet more futile legislation, and the process of ignoring the legislation, may send quite a different message. It sends the message that Israeli sovereignty and the "Israel Lobby" are treated as something of a joke, both in the United States and elsewhere. It points out that the Israeli government is powerless against the Arab lobby and western cultural prejudices against surrendering Christian holy places to Jewish sovereignty; it cannot command the elementary respect of other nations. Do U.S. politicians think that Jews are fools who cannot see through empty  declarations? The message that is broadcast is that both the Israel government and the vaunted "Israel lobby" are bad jokes that cannot even command the fundamental niceties of international diplomacy. They cannot get the capital of Israel recognized by the United States government and they  can't get Ambassador Jones replaced when he makes cruelly frivolous remarks about Jonathan Pollard. They wouldn't dare to try.
Perhaps Jerusalem is not important. If so, then perhaps the Israel government bit off more than it can chew when it annexed Jerusalem, and perhaps the lobbyists are failing because they are trying to do the impossible. And yet, the Jewish people cannot renounce our claims to Jerusalem.
The value of political action is a function of reality. The Balfour declaration would not have been worth the paper it was written on, were there not, eventually, "facts on the ground," in the form of Jews living in Israel, that compelled the creation of a Jewish national home in the land of Israel. U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 was not worth the paper it was written on, regarding provisions for internationalization and a Palestinian state, because it didn't reflect reality. Neither the Jews nor the Arab States wanted a real Palestinian state, that would live in peace with Israel.  The partition resolution, Ben-Gurion's declaration of the state of Israel, and President Truman's recognition of it, would have been worthless were there not Jews here to defend that homeland. The Oslo Accords that were to usher in an era of peace proved to be worthless, because they did not reflect reality. Bitter experience has taught us that political documents must be grounded in reality.
Rather than seeking more worthless congressional resolutions about Jerusalem, and applauding them, perhaps the state of Israel and its supporters should turn their efforts to achieving the politically possible, and to using whatever can be obtained to shore up the reality of Jewish national sovereignty, making possible further political gains in the future. Israeli annexation of Jerusalem was in large part an empty political gesture, and this is reflected in the attitude of the world. Declarations about a united city do not reflect "facts on the ground."
Like the U.S. congressional resolutions, they are empty charades that are not supported by action. Real priorities seem to lie elsewhere. Before 1967, the government did not invest seriously in West Jerusalem. After 1967, the government did not invest enough serious effort in the unification of Jerusalem and the building of Jerusalem as a united city and the capital of Israel. Our capital was a backwater of ultra-orthodox society before 1967, and it is now an unconsolidated mixture of Arabs, ultraorthodox Jews, government officials and students, gaudy tourist attractions, government offices and educational and religious institutions.  It doesn't have an industrial base to support a productive population.
It would be more to the point to inaugurate a new factory or science-based industries park in Jerusalem each year then to have another Jerusalem day celebration. It would be more to the point to protect the antiquities of the Temple Mount then to illuminate the walls of Jerusalem with kitchy colored spotlights. Fifty thousand American Jews settling in Jerusalem would do more for Jerusalem than fifty thousand congressional resolutions.
Regarding the Arabs of Jerusalem, the government essentially decided not to decide, essentially allowing the questions to be settled - or not settled - by the municipality of Jerusalem, the Ministry of the Interior and various other branches. This is convenient, because when the inevitable debacle arrives, each could say that it was someone else's responsibility.
In what is supposedly our own capital, we behave as thieves in the night, as in mandatory Palestine. Arab residents were neither given full rights nor excluded. Rather, they are arbitrarily harassed by the government in a mutual guerrilla war that pits widespread illegal Arab building in places like Silwan, against various ineffective and undemocratic Israeli measures such as occasional house demolition and pernicious games played with residence permits. As more and more Arab Palestinians are attracted by the higher standard of living in Jerusalem, and repelled by the chaos in their own society, we are moving to a situation where the majority of West Bank residents may soon claim that they are wrongfully evicted residents of Jerusalem, who have returned to claim their "rights."
We cannot even decide where to put the security fence. It is we who have not really made up our minds if Jerusalem is part of Israel, or what parts are part of Israel, or if it is part of the West Bank, and if the West Bank is part of Israel. If the West Bank is part of Israel, and Jerusalem is part of Israel, then there can be no objection to Arabs from Ramallah moving to Silwan. It would be politically explosive to draw a border anywhere, so the government doesn't do it. It is a non-policy carried out in the absence of a real policy. The Arab Palestinians, on the other hand, have a clear policy, and they are carrying it out. They do not say "next year in Quds al Sharif," they just do it, and they are not going to be satisfied with empty congressional resolutions. They move in, and create "facts on the ground."
The Israeli government did little to integrate the Arab population of Jerusalem into city life as well. It has not provided for their social needs, housing or infrastructure. To an objective observer, it would probably appear that we have not really decided what to do about Jerusalem, and what to do about the Arabs of Jerusalem.
On the diplomatic front, the government has not used any real diplomatic leverage, if it has any, to get foreign governments to move their embassies. What is the point of having a Jerusalem Day celebration, and announcing again and again that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, if the government does nothing to implement the reality?
Apparently, the Israeli government too are saying "next year in Jerusalem" each year - a declarative statement with little meaning behind it. If the Israeli government doesn't care about Jerusalem, and if the Jews of the United States do not care, how can we expect the U.S. government or any other government to respect our protestations about "rights?"
Ami Isseroff

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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