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November 6, 2012 12:39 pm

Will Jerusalem be Divided? Today’s Vote Impacts the Holy City’s Future

avatar by Ari Werth

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Screenshot from Mitt Romney's 'Cherished Relationship' ad.

A mysterious building sits on leafy Gershon Agron Street, a block away from Jerusalem’s Old City.  A row of black SUVs with tinted windows and diplomatic license plates line the street.  Armed men with earpieces and sunglasses pace in front of an old building with high walls. An American flag flies on the roof.  What is this place?

Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, so this building must be the US embassy, right?  Think again. The US has no embassy in the capital.

To find the official American embassy, head to the beach in Tel Aviv.  The fortified embassy sits along the waterfront next to Mike’s Place bar.

What’s wrong with this diplomatic geography?

Under international law, every country has the right to designate its own capital.  Jerusalem is the only designated capital not recognized by the US Government.

The Obama Administration refused to move the embassy during the past four years. President Obama believes moving the embassy would legitimize Israel’s claim to Jerusalem and thereby taint America’s “honest broker” status with the Palestinians.  He’s preserving Jerusalem as a bargaining chip for “final status” negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Clinton also deferred the move, prompting the US Congress to step in. In 1995, it passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act to force the US State Department to relocate the embassy.

The deadline to relocate was May 31, 1999.  Israel is still waiting.

Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton all used a legal loophole enabling them to suspend relocation every six months “in the interest of national security.”  However, President Obama left out a symbolic statement included in the Bush and Clinton memoranda. He deleted the line: “My Administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”

A similar clause was also dropped from the 2012 Democratic Party platform.  A surprise vote during the convention to restore the language was met with loud boos from many delegates.

“It’s unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” stated Mitt Romney at the time.

Romney made headlines by doing something the Obama Administration refuses to do — acknowledge Jerusalem’s status as the capital. “A nation has the capacity to choose its own capital city, and Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Romney declared during his Israel trip in July.

Romney realizes that Palestinians don’t just want East Jerusalem.  They want all of Jerusalem.  In fact, they want all of Israel.

Israel’s crown jewel is Jerusalem’s Old City, a spiritual epicenter for all three major religions.  The Old City contains the holiest site in Judaism (the Kotel), the holiest site in Christianity (Church of the Holy Sepulchre), and the third holiest site in Islam (Dome of the Rock).

When Jordan controlled the Old City from 1948 to 1967, it destroyed religious freedom.  More than fifty synagogues were demolished or ransacked.  Christians were only allowed to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Christmas. The Quran was required reading in Christian schools.

After the Six Day War in 1967, Israel regained control of the Old City and began a policy of religious tolerance that continues to this day.  In fact, Israel voluntarily ceded control of the Temple Mount back to the Muslims due to the importance of the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock in their religion.  Millions of Christians and Muslims (many from Arab countries seeking Israel’s destruction) have come to Jerusalem to visit their holy sites as they wish.  Under Israeli law, a violation of any sacred religious space is a crime. Perhaps the best example of Israel’s inclusiveness is that 20% of Israel’s population are Arabs  (mostly Palestinian) with full citizenship rights and elected representatives in the Knesset.

In Palestinian controlled Gaza, by contrast, Islamic extremists are terrorizing Christians.  In 2010, they targeted churches in a terror campaign. Bibles and holy relics were destroyed. This year, several Christians were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam.  Gaza’s Christians say they live in fear for their lives.

Whoever sits in the Oval Office over the next four years will influence the future of Jerusalem.  Will a peace settlement split the Holy City once again into conflict zones? Or will Jerusalem remain whole, a place where religious freedom is protected?

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  • Ari Werth wants his Jewish Readership to be in the dark about a most important fact concerning the topic of the article which he purposely left out:

    Fact: Over a period of several years of negotiations President GW Bush brokered a deal that Olmert offered Abbas in August 2008. Let’s read GW Bush’s own words from his memoirs “Decision Points” as Bush brags about the deal he brokered that would CREATE A JOINT CAPITAL OF JERUSALEM:

    [BUSH:] “With my approval, Condi oversaw a separate channel of talks directly between Olmert and Abbas. The dialogue culminated in a secret proposal from Olmert to Abbas. His offer would have returned the vast majority of the territory in the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, accepted the construction of a tunnel connecting the two Palestinian territories, allowed a limited number of Palestinian refugees return to Israel, ESTABLISH JERUSALEM AS A JOINT CAPITAL OF BOTH ISRAEL AND PALESTINE, and entrusted control of the holy cites to a panel of nonpolitical elders.”

    Olmert also describes the secret deal to the Israeli Media:
    ” on August 31, 2008, three weeks before [ OLMERT ] resigned, he offered
    100 percent of West Bank land (minus 6.8% in land swaps ),
    10,000 Palestinian refugees returning to Israel’s final borders,
    and the holy basin of Jerusalem’s Old City coming under joint Israeli-Palestinian-American- Jordanian-Saudi control .”
    [ the land swaps means that Israel would cede to the Palestinians land that is currently part of the borders of the State of Israel from back in 1949; just to be clear this land that is to be swapped is land that even the United Nations recognizes as part of the legal borders of the state of Israel.

    Nothing Obama has even been charged with has exceeded this.

    • Ari

      Hi Leonard,
      Thanks for the info on this sensitive issue. I read what you wrote carefully. Bush’s memoir says that Olmert was proposing dividing Jerusalem, not Bush pressuring. In contrast, Netanyahu does not want to divide Jerusalem, but Obama is prodding Israel to do so. “Israel without Jerusalem is like a body with a weak heart. Never again will our heart be divided,” Netanyahu said. In this way, your example doesn’t apply to the situation today.

  • chaim f

    the author of the article is wrong. US policy influences Israeli policy to the extent the Israeli establishment wishes it to do so. The status of Jerusalem is up to Jews in general and to the Israeli govt. in particular. It doesn’t matter who the president is. If the govt. of Israel were to act rationally the “storm” of objection to its actions would quickly dissipate. Decisions must be made in the interests of Israel’s security, not in the speculative (usually wrong) interests of Israel’s relations with other nations.

    • Ari

      Chaim, thanks for the comment on my article. Of course, Israel can make its own decisions, but the reality is that the US exerts a considerable influence on those decisions. And Israel has chosen throughout its history to place a high value on that relationship. That’s because Israel’s security is at risk without US military assistance and backup protection. (Ultimately, the protection surrounding every country — and every person — comes from Heaven above.)
      All the best,

  • Jill

    No-one should influence Israel! I love how solid Netanyahu is standing on this issue, but I think it is time to show outrage; JERUSALEM WILL NOT BE DIVIDED!!!