Jerusalem has been one of the most dramatic issues of discord between the will of the American constituent and Congress on the one hand, and State-Department-driven presidential policy on the other hand.
In contrast with most Americans, and their state and federal representatives, who cherish Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of the Jewish State, all US presidents have embraced Foggy Bottom’s denial of Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital, or even as part of Israel. Moreover, the US foreign policy bureaucracy has disavowed the 1947 non-binding UN General Assembly Partition Plan, but for one segment – Jerusalem, which the UN designated as an international city.
Israel is the only country in the world, whose (3,000 year old) capital is not recognized by the State Department and by the Presidents of the US. However, the American people consider Israel to be the second most trusted and dependable ally of the USA (following Britain), and 71% support (and 9% oppose) Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital.
President Obama has gone farther than any US president in implementing the Jerusalem policy-of-denial. He is pressing for an unprecedented construction freeze in Jerusalem beyond the 1949 ceasefire lines, and is trying to eliminate any reference to “Jerusalem, Israel” in present and past official documents and communications.
On the other hand, Jerusalem has earned the affinity of the American people since the arrival of the Pilgrims in the seventeenth century, who viewed the US as “the modern day Promised Land,” establishing many towns with Biblical names, including Jerusalem. In 2012 there are, at least, 18 US towns called Jerusalem, in addition to some 32 Salems, the Biblical, initial name of Jerusalem (Shalem), meaning wholesomeness, divine and peace.
While the American affinity towards Jerusalem has cemented the unique covenant between the US and the Jewish State, the Department of State never viewed Jerusalem as part of the Jewish State. In 1949, President Truman followed Secretary of State Marshall’s policy, pressuring Israel to refrain from annexing any part of Jerusalem and to accept the internationalization of the ancient capital of the Jewish people. In 1953, President Eisenhower – inspired by Secretary of State, Dulles – opposed the relocation of Israel’s Foreign Ministry from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and prohibited official meetings in Jerusalem. In 1967, President Johnson adopted the Jerusalem policy of Secretary of State Rusk, who opposed Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence. LBJ highlighted the international status of Jerusalem, and warned Israel against the unification of – and construction in eastern – Jerusalem. In 1970, President Nixon collaborated with Secretary of State, Rogers, attempting to repartition Jerusalem and to stop Israel’s plans to construct additional neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.
However, the presidential pressure was short-lived and ineffective due to the defiant Israeli response, which benefitted from overwhelming Congressional and public support of Jerusalem as the eternal, indivisible capital of the Jewish people.
In 1995, Congress decided to implement the will of the people, passing overwhelmingly (93:5 in the Senate and 374:37 in the House) the Jerusalem Embassy Act. It stipulated the recognition of unified Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, a presidential national security waiver, which was introduced into the bill by Senator Dole with the support of Prime Minister Rabin, has enabled Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama to avoid implementation.
In 1999, 84 Senators realized that the national security waiver was misused by the White House, and that cow-towing to Arab pressure radicalized Arab expectations and belligerence. They attempted to leverage the co-determining and co-equal power of the legislature and to eliminate the waiver provision. But, they were blocked by President Clinton and Prime Minister Barak.
In 2012, the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties should heed the historical will of the American constituent, synchronizing the White House and the Department of State with the Jerusalem reality – Israel’s indivisible capital. Still, the success of such an initiative behooves Israeli leaders to resurrect the steadfastness and defiance, which characterized Israeli Prime Ministers from Ben Gurion (1948) through Shamir (1992).