Context matters: Jerusalem and its embassies

Recently there has been a debate in the Swedish parliament that has circled around a possible move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Oddly enough, the West has for decades shown a double standard in diplomatic art: a refusal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while acknowledging the possession of diplomatic missions to the Palestinian Authority in the same city.

Much has been said and written about President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and its possible consequences. Public conversation has generally concentrated on its potential diplomatic and political implications. Lost throughout the controversy is the fact that the United States and Sweden are two of nine countries that already have a de facto an embassy in Jerusalem. But all these countries are embassies to the Palestinians, not to Israel.

The US Embassy in Israel was located in Tel Aviv, but much less well known is that the US Consulate has been situated in Jerusalem, just around the corner from the Prime Minister’s residence — and handled diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority. It is one of nine consulates in Jerusalem who all serve the same purpose. Five of them — Britain, Turkey, Belgium, Spain and Sweden — are located in East Jerusalem. Consulates in the United States, France, Italy and Greece are located in Western Jerusalem. The European Union also has a representative office in East Jerusalem.

None of the countries (except the US) that have consulates in Jerusalem recognize Israeli sovereignty over the city. Consequently, their official embassies remain in Tel Aviv. Their consulate in Jerusalem is almost unique, no one accredited. And none of the consulates seek an exequatur, the diplomatic permission required by international law. Yet, the Israeli State Department treats them for purposes that they were normal consulates accredited to the State of Israel. Their jurisdiction covers all of Jerusalem, except Israel, as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Why do nine countries, including Sweden, refuse to carry out embassies in Jerusalem on the grounds that they do not recognize Israeli sovereignty there, while diplomatic missions are provided to the Palestinians in the same city?

The consulates around the world are generally about collecting information and providing consular services. By contrast, Jerusalem’s consulate is uniquely political.

The fact that these consulates in Jerusalem handle political relations with the Palestinians is openly advertised by the countries concerned. The US Consulate has previously called itself “the representative of the de facto US government to the Palestinian Authority.” The Turkish Consulate describes itself as an embassy in everything but its name.

The Italian Consulate, even in Western Jerusalem, says it is “responsible for maintaining and developing [Italy’s] relations … with the Palestinian authorities … at all levels.” And finally, Sweden, which recognized Palestine in 2014, says that its Jerusalem consulate has “the goal of promoting democratic Palestinian state building.

By recognizing the State of Palestine, one would assume that Sweden had demarcated the area it had recognized. Thus, it makes sense to move Sweden´s embassy to the western part of the city, leaving aside the aspirations for the eastern part of the city. But Sweden has yet refused to do so which makes one wonder: Does Sweden recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, but refuses to do the same with Israel? What kind of message does this send?

About the Author
In 2016 I released the Swedish book Who Says What? Voices in favor and against a Two-State Solution. The aim for the book was to be an objective and sensible voice by presenting balanced texts from respectable actors who provide different perspectives on the situation and reflect on alternative solutions. I recently released my second book Israeli Settlements: Land Politics beyond the Geneva Convention. The aim with that book is to go deeper to understand the rationale behind Israeli land policies. I am also a diplomatic Corp for the World Jewish Congress.
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