Trump and the Old American Policy Toward Jerusalem

Monday, May 22, 2017 |  Tsvi Sadan

President Trump's visit to Israel was preceded by leaks, misinformation and denials concerning the legal status of Jerusalem. 

Trump's visit falls on the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. Only the naive would believe the timing of the visit is mere coincidence. Trump, as has been demonstrated countless times, is a true ally of Israel, and his visit a day prior to the official Jerusalem Day, together with his visit to the Western Wall, is a statement of acceptance of the status of a united Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

But will Trump be able to change the United States' long-held policy of refusing to publicly acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?  Many believe the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act already altered US policy in this regard. But the Act is careful to state that "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel." 

"Should be" is a far cry from "is," and to date, the United States will not acknowledge Greater Jerusalem as Israel's capital. This, among other reasons, is why, despite the 1995 Act, the US embassy was never moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That this is still the de facto policy of the US could also be seen in the "Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003," which states that concerning a "United States citizen born in the city of Jerusalem, the Secretary shall, upon the request of the citizen or the citizen’s legal guardian, record the place of birth as Israel [instead of Jerusalem]." Yet, to this day, the passport of an American born in Jerusalem does not recognize him or her as having been born in Israel.

And now, prior to Trump's visit, an "American official" has stated that the Western Wall is not in Israeli territory. Though this created a controversy that led to Trump's rejection of the statement, this is nonetheless the official American policy. So much so that the New York Times went so far as suggesting that the Western Wall has become a holy site for the Jews only after 1967.

New York Times reporter Mark Lander, who followed up on this controversy, wrote the following on May 15: "Israel claims Jerusalem as its undivided capital. Israeli troops seized the area around the Western Wall, a sacred site for Jews, in 1967 during the Six-Day War, and it has become a highly visible symbol of the disputed nature of Jerusalem, which Palestinians also claim as their capital. The wall lies underneath the Al Aqsa Mosque, or Temple Mount, which is one of the holiest sites in Islam."

This careful wording by a seasoned journalist leaves no doubt as to how the New York Times views Jerusalem. According to them, the Israelis alone claim that Jerusalem's Old City belongs to Israel. And it is only since Israeli troops seized the Old City that it has become a "symbol of the disputed nature of Jerusalem." And, it was only after 1967 that the Palestinians started claiming Jerusalem as their capital.

In other words, Jerusalem has become a problem as a result of Israel seizing control of Judaism's holiest site, the Temple Mount. Prior to that -- when Jews were not allowed to visit the Temple Mount, the Western Wall or any other part of the Old City -- back when the more significant part of Jerusalem was under Jordanian occupation, all was good. 

Like it or not, the New York Times well reflects an American policy not changed since 1949. For this reason, one would be surprised to see President Trump changing this policy. The fact that Trump refused Netanyahu's request to accompany him at the Western Wall is a telling sign of the unchanged American policy toward "occupied" Jerusalem.

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