The city of Jerusalem and the foreign ministries of Israel and Russia have quietly signed an important agreement. Accordingly, in exchange for Israeli recognition of the Russian presence in Jerusalem, Moscow will open an “embassy extension” (or “small embassy”) in the Holy City. Five years after the US Embassy move to Jerusalem, Russia is providing another major boost to the city’s international status as the capital of the Jewish state.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and the Russian Foreign Ministry recently reached a historic compromise. The focus is on Russia’s official commitment to set up a consular post in the empty Maalot car park, about 100 meters from our editorial office. In return, the State of Israel will refrain from expropriating the site in favor of the light rail line that runs there and will look for other public transportation solutions. Jerusalem will also withdraw all claims against the Russian Federation, which has not paid taxes and duties required by law on its Jerusalem properties for many years. In addition, the parking garage on Maalot Street (the parking lot under our apartment) will remain operational until the complex is built.
The official Russian complex will provide consular services to residents of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. It will also house a diplomatic residence, giving it higher status than a typical consulate. The agreement provides for construction to be completed within five years, with the possibility of an extension to a decade. The agreement was signed on Jerusalem Day at Mayor Moshe Lion’s office along with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. The signing ceremony was also attended by Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov and Sergey Makarov representing Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Bogdanov. The agreement states:
“The Russian Federation will construct a complex of buildings that will serve as an extension of the Russian Embassy. The Federal Foreign Office rates this agreement positively. The Russian side has agreed to take the necessary steps to build the complex as soon as possible.”
For years, Jerusalem and Moscow were at odds over a number of properties in the Israeli capital. The Kremlin claimed direct ownership of properties established by Russian churches and other institutions in Jerusalem. Israel wanted to accommodate them, but insisted that in this case Moscow would have to retroactively pay taxes on the properties. Moscow refused.
In fact, a few years ago Russia officially recognized the western part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but not the eastern and Arab parts. Russia’s pledge to now establish an official diplomatic mission in the capital is of historic importance, as it means that two major powers, the US and Russia, will now have embassy-level diplomatic missions in the Israeli capital. This strengthens Israel’s position in Jerusalem in the shadow of the old partition plan of 1947, which envisaged placing Jerusalem under international control. The official representation of Russia in Jerusalem is a blow to the Palestinians, since Moscow took the step independently of any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians see it as a Judaization of Jerusalem.
It should be noted that Israel requires states to open embassies but not consulates. The reason for this is that according to diplomatic rules, consulates are located in central cities, while embassies are always located in capital cities. In that sense, some fear that opening a new mutation like a “small embassy,” or “embassy extension” would be worse than having no embassy in Jerusalem at all. Embassy-style representation (ie. not a full embassy) will allow countries in the future not to go all the way and open a full embassy. On the other hand, a small Russian embassy is a great success in Jerusalem and an important message to other nations that are still influenced by Moscow’s positions.
There are currently four official embassies in Jerusalem: USA, Guatemala, Honduras and Kosovo. Paraguay, Papua New Guinea and probably Hungary too are planning to open embassies in Jerusalem in the near future.
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