Middle East Digest - October 1997
Because of its likely influence on the approaching final status talks on Jerusalem,
it is instructive to review the American stance regarding the city. The US Congress,
in line with prevailing American public opinion, has repeatedly voted by
overwhelming margins to recognise united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to
move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In contrast to this clearly stated
principle, the US State Department over the last 50 years has left a confusing trail
of irreconcilable statements and policy formulations on the status of Jerusalem,
often leading to absurd consequences. The press corps at the State Department's
daily briefings knows that, for a few good laughs, nothing tops a question on the
"official" US policy on Jerusalem. Following is a brief summary of how this
Internationalisation: Middle East specialist Sara M. Averick has identified at least three specific stages
in the State Department's evolving policy on Jerusalem (AIPAC Papers on US-Israel Relations, No. 6,
1984). The first stage dates from 1947 to 1967 and may be referred to as the "international solution". In
1947, the US was deeply involved in United Nations deliberations on Palestine, and supported the partition
plan which called for Jerusalem to be a "corpus separatum" under special UN administration.
As soon as this plan passed in the UN General Assembly, Arab forces began attacking Jewish
neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, thus initiating the battle for the city which eventually led to its division by
agreement between Israel and Jordan in 1949. The world was presented with a fait accompli as western
Jerusalem was declared the capital of Israel and eastern Jerusalem (including the Old City and Temple
Mount) was annexed by Jordan.
From this time until the Six-Day War, as many as 23 nations maintained embassies to Israel in Jerusalem
and the UN tended to ignore the issue. The U.S., however, took every opportunity for nearly 20 years to
reject the de facto partition of the city and advocate for its internationalisation under UN rule in an attempt
to appease Arab sensitivities.
Subject to Negotiations: Following Israel's physical reunification of the city in June 1967 (during the war
which saw Israel capture the Sinai, Golan, Gaza, and Judea-Samaria), the US rejected any unilateral changes
in the city and declared it "subject to negotiations". America's UN Ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, helped
draft what has become the cornerstone of subsequent peace efforts in the region: UN Security Council
Resolution 242. "Two-four-two" calls for Israeli withdrawal from "territories occupied in the recent
conflict"; and for the right of every state in the region "to live in peace within secure and recognised
boundaries free from threats or acts of force."
Goldberg has insisted this resolution deliberately made no mention of Jerusalem in its reference to
"occupied territories", thus disassociating the city from discussions over the "West Bank". This impliedly
preserved the US preference for internationalisation and was accepted as official Washington policy until
Occupied Territory: In 1969, US Ambassador Charles Yost announced in a UN speech a change in US
policy towards Jerusalem--the official interpretation of Resolution 242 included Jerusalem as part of the
"occupied territories." This shift in policy effectively abandoned the international concept and accepted ex
post facto what the US had rejected for over 20 years--a separate Arab part of the city. Subsequently,
President Jimmy Carter annexed a letter to the Camp David Accords citing the Goldberg and Yost positions
as the official US policy on Jerusalem, despite the fact the two clearly contradict each other.
Either privately or during election campaigns, US Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clin-ton
have made favourable comments concerning the status quo--a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty--but none has seen fit to accordingly amend or clarify the official US view on Jerusalem.
As a result, the core of present State Department policy-- "Jerusalem should remain undivided, but is
subject to negotiations"--opposes redivision while failing to recognise Israeli sovereignty over any part of
Jerusalem. In contrast, numerous US votes at the UN consider eastern Jerusalem to be "occupied Arab
territory", essentially an invitation to redivide Jerusalem along pre-67 lines. The question then arises: "Which
Arabs?" In 1988, King Hussein of Jordan renounced any sovereignty to Jerusalem, but still claims a special
status as Guardian of its Muslim holy sites. Thus the PLO exerts the only competing sovereignty claim of
any concern, yet this claim is relatively novel since neither the original 1964 nor the revised 1968 PLO
Covenant makes any mention of Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian state.
Such a claim pales in comparison with 3,000 years of Jewish connection to the city as the heart of its
faith and capital of its commonwealth, as is recognised by the US Congress.