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November 3, 2016 6:55 am

Where in the World Was President Obama?

avatar by Mitchell Bard

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President Barack Obama. Photo: Pete Souza / White House.

President Barack Obama. Photo: Pete Souza / White House.

On September 30, President Barack Obama attended the funeral of Shimon Peres. At 8 a.m., the White House posted the official transcript of the president’s remarks, which it said were delivered on “Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Israel.” At 4:30 p.m., a corrected version deleted the reference to Israel. Apparently, President Obama had entered the Twilight Zone.

The reason for Obama’s “disappearance” was that the United States does not recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel. “International law makes states the sole determinants of their own capital,” according to Avi Bell, a professor of law at Bar-Ilan University. Nevertheless, of the 190 nations with which America has diplomatic relations, Israel is the only one whose capital is not recognized by the US government. Furthermore, a set of rules (e.g., not allowing official cars to fly the US flag in the city, and leaving Israel off documents identifying Americans born in Jerusalem) were established to do everything possible to avoid the appearance of the US legitimization of Israel’s capital. The United States not only refused to place its embassy in Jerusalem, but pressured others to follow suit.

In an effort to change US policy, Congress overwhelmingly passed The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. This landmark bill declared that, as a statement of official US policy, Jerusalem should be recognized as the undivided, eternal capital of Israel and required that the US embassy in Israel be established in Jerusalem no later than May 1999. The law also included a waiver that allowed the president to ignore the legislation if he deemed doing so to be in the best interest of the United States. President Bill Clinton and all of his successors, including George W. Bush, have exercised that option.

The pretexts for successive administrations’ refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital are that at least part of the city (east Jerusalem) is “occupied;” that UN Security Council Resolution 242 calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories acquired in the 1967 Six-Day War; and that any decision regarding the city’s future must be negotiated by Israel with the Palestinians. The true reason for America’s position, however, is the Arabist-induced fear that recognizing Israel’s capital would cause an uproar in the Muslim world that could lead our Muslim allies to turn on us and, potentially, provoke a holy war.

If we unpack these arguments, it will become clear they are spurious.

First, historically, the Palestinians have little connection to Jerusalem. While Jews trace their connection to the city back 3,000 years, the Palestinian connection to the area is at most 1,000 years old. Prior to the Western powers carving up the Middle East after World War I, Jerusalem was a backwater in the Ottoman Empire. The city was never the capital of any Arab state and had little significance outside of its symbolism to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Palestinians may want Jerusalem for the capital of a future state, but they have no legitimate claim to the city.

The argument that east Jerusalem has always been Arab and therefore should be part of a Palestinian state is inaccurate. The only time that the eastern part of Jerusalem was exclusively Arab was between 1949 and 1967, and that was because Jordan occupied the area and forcibly expelled all the Jews. Before 1865, the entire population of Jerusalem lived behind the Old City walls (i.e., the eastern part of the city). Later, the city began to expand beyond the walls, because of population growth, and both Jews and Arabs began to build in new areas of the city.

By the time of partition, a thriving Jewish community was living in the eastern part of Jerusalem, an area that included the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. This area of the city also contains many sites of importance to the Jewish religion, including the City of David, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. In addition, major institutions, such as the Hebrew University and the original Hadassah Hospital are on Mount Scopus — in eastern Jerusalem.

With regard to the legality of Israel’s presence in Jerusalem, Arthur Goldberg, the US ambassador to the UN who helped draft resolution 242, stated unequivocally that reference to Jerusalem was deliberately omitted. “Jerusalem was a discrete matter, not linked to the West Bank,” he said. In several speeches at the UN in 1967, Goldberg said, “I repeatedly stated that the armistice lines of 1948 were intended to be temporary. This, of course, was particularly true of Jerusalem. At no time in these many speeches did I refer to east Jerusalem as occupied territory.”

What about the possible catastrophic effects of a US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?

Undoubtedly, the United States would be criticized, but if the rest of the countries with embassies in Tel Aviv quickly followed suit, the issue would be moot. In the past, the Saudis had leverage to coerce governments not to move their embassies. When Canada announced it would move its embassy in 1979, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait canceled more than $400 million worth of contracts with Canadian firms and threatened to withdraw their deposits from Canadian banks. The value of the Canadian dollar sank, and the country faced a potential economic crisis. The government subsequently decided to postpone the embassy move. Today, it still sits in Tel Aviv. Similar threats directly against the United States have never been made public, but it is not difficult to imagine that they have been made privately.

The Saudis are already angry with the United States for a variety of reasons, and have threatened to withdraw huge sums of money as a result of Congress passing a law allowing victims of 9/11 to sue the Saudi government. The Saudis do not have the clout they had in the 1970s following the oil embargo. We called their bluff on the 9/11 legislation; we should do the same with regard to the embassy.

Radical Muslims might use the decision as an excuse to attack Western targets, but they are doing so today and will continue to engage in terror tomorrow, regardless of Jerusalem’s status. Furthermore, the Arab states know that Jerusalem has been the real capital since 1967, and that Israel has no intention of allowing the city to be divided again. Israel already respects the freedom of all faiths to practice their religion, so that is not an issue. The countries that are pro-American need us more than we need them, so making an issue of our recognition of Israel’s capital would be counterproductive.

Israel has not pressed the issue of American recognition, in part because it does not need to. Jerusalem is its capital, whether anyone likes it or not. Israel may also fear provoking an uproar with the Muslims, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others have been trying to incite Muslims for years with the libel that Israel is planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

This may be the ideal time to end the fiction that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital. Israel’s relations with Muslim states are better than they’ve ever been. Muslims are already busy fighting wars with each other throughout the region and can ill afford another. Some might argue they would unite to defend Jerusalem, but the divisions between Shi’ites and Sunnis will not be healed that easily. Those other wars — in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya — are also occupying the attention of the leaders in the region.

Some opponents argue that recognition of Israel’s capital will harm the peace process. If anything, reversing our position is likely to have the opposite effect. By making clear the United States believes Jerusalem should remain unified under Israeli sovereignty, Palestinian expectations regarding the city can be moderated, and this would thereby enhance the prospects for a final agreement.

The US Congress is solidly behind the idea of moving the embassy, but State Department Arabists, determined to weaken Israel and undermine US-Israel relations, will do everything they can to sabotage any change in any administration’s position.

A bigger hurdle is President Obama, who is fixated on settlements and, despite all evidence to the contrary, believes they are the obstacle to peace. In his first year in office, he tried to coerce Israel to accept a settlement freeze that included Jerusalem, which gave the Palestinians hope he would force Israel to divide the city. That ill-conceived proposal was largely responsible for eight years of unsuccessful peace initiatives.

Still, it is not too late for Obama to do the right thing.

Rather than taking the rumored counterproductive action at the UN of supporting a vote to recognize “Palestine” or declaring settlements illegal, Obama could enhance the cause of peace and give his successor the gift of resolving one of the thorniest issues, by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. For that to happen, however, Obama would have to return from the Twilight Zone, and I’m afraid he’s been lost there permanently. Perhaps his successor will see the light.

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

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  • Hilltop Watchman

    As long as the world’s irrational and institutionalised Jew Hatred continues to fester and grow, nothing is going to change. The only friend of Israel is Israel apart from the morons of the Jewish Left and religious meshuggenahs who while benefitting from being defended by their fellow Jews, seem keen to sell them out to save their own scrawny necks, as they did during the holocaust and continue to do so to this day.

  • Jane Jackman

    At the beginning of this piece Dr Bard quotes international law as a criteria for recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But when ‘in the world’ did Israel recognise international law as governing its actions? Also, what is ‘the evidence to the contrary’ that settlements are an obstacle to peace? Perhaps he would expand on that.

    • StanleyTee

      Well gee, Jane, let’s answer your questions, shall we.
      Israel recognizes international law on a daily basis! In fact, the only times it doesn’t do so are when it is to its own detriment. For example, under international law (the Mandate for Palestine), Israel has better title to Judea, Samaria (aka the West bank) and all of Jerusalem than any other entity. Israel, to date, has not staked its very legitimate claims. As far as “settlements” are concerned, there is nothing in international law that prohibits them. The Oslo Agreements do not prohibit them, and the Geneva Convention, Article IV, does not apply, because Israel did not take over Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem from another state (Jordan had no legal or legitimate claim to these areas), and because Israel is not “forcibly” moving its population into those areas.

      As for whether or not settlements are an “obstacle to peace”, why on earth would they be? Israel removed settlements before ceding the Sinai to Egypt, and withdrew every Jew, both alive and dead, from Gaza in 2005. Buildings can be transferred to other populations or demolished. It’s “Palestinian” rejectionism that is the real obstacle.

      Get past the usual anti-Israel, anti-Semitic talking points, Jane. Grow up.

  • Peter Joffe

    Obama will do the right thing!! FOR ISAm not for world peace. Obama will ‘come out’ after he gets kicked out of the White House and will openly admits his hatred for all infidels.

  • montlasky

    Maybe doing so could justify his Nobel prize????????

  • watsa46

    While his whole Adm may be corrupted he is making sure to create as much turmoil he can in the ME!

  • Holy Shirt

    Where in the world was President Obama when Justice Scalia was being force-fed his pillow?

  • Only a statesman of uncommon courage would relocate the American Embassy to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. The Arabists at the U.S. State Department are scared to death of another Arab oil embargo. And perhaps the next U.S. President will do the right thing, and move the American Embassy to Jerusalem.

    • David Reading

      Hope springs eternal.