The US embassy in Jerusalem? A move long overdue

Come the new year, an old friend of mine may be making aliyah. Aliyah is translated at times as to “go up,” as in to go up to Jerusalem (as in the days that the Temple stood on the Temple Mount). My friend is already in Israel, and in fact has been in Tel Aviv for almost 70 years. The occasion may be Trump’s presidency, and the question is, why has this taken so long. To clear any doubts, I am referring to the US embassy.

Since Israel’s independence the US has refused to recognize officially Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem. For a good round up on the subject I would refer readers to Seth Fratzman’s “Comment: The colonial origins of US policy on Jerusalem” (Jerusalem Post). On November 29, 1947 the United Nations General Assembly approved a proposal to partition of Mandatory Palestine, then administered by the British as mandated by the League of Nations (The San Remo conference assigned the mandate for Palestine to the United Kingdom under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.)corpusseparatum Part of UNGA 181 , as detailed in Part 3c , is the clause: The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations. The Trusteeship Council shall be designated to discharge the responsibilities of the Administering Authority on behalf of the United Nations.  Frantzman claims that the corpus separatum, first proposed by the Peel commission in 1936, was an an example of British colonialism that was then planned to be continued under the auspices of the UN. With do respect, I only partially agree. In my opinion it was something much worse: what I would describe as Christian Supremacy.

By Christian Supremacy, I refer to the legal definition :


noun: ascendancy, authority, chieftaincy, command, control, direction, domination, dominion, governance, headship, highest position, importance, influence, leadership, lordship, masterdom, mastership, mastery, omnipotence, power, precedence, predominance, predomination, preeminence, primacy, rule, scepter, sovereignty, superintendence, superiority, supervision, supreme authority, supremeness, sway, transcendency

Mandatory Palestine was never a colony of Great Britain (although managed from the Colonial Office). As a mandate territory the area was intended to be managed with the goal of establishing a National Homeland for the Jewish People while respecting the rights of non-Jewish, local populations. However, with the power came the appetite to use the Mandate to ensure the sanctity of the Christian holy places and to prevent any side from hampering free access to them. Jews and Moslems, in this view could not be trusted to guarantee free access.

Trust aside, allowing Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem and the  Christian holy places would be affront to Christian beliefs that the Jews were no longer G-d’s chosen, but rather that the Church had superseded Judaism. If the Jews could claim ownership to Jerusalem, that would mean perhaps that the original covenant was still valid. Therefore, both from an ideological position, as well as a practical one (to prevent Christian holy place be harmed in any conflict) the UNSCOP adopted this British idea when proposing the corpus separatum for Jerusalem.

The exclusion of Jerusalem from the Jewish area of the partition caused great anguish to many of the Jews in Palestine. On one hand, sovereignty, even limited sovereignty over a limited area, would allow the Jewish refugees, survivors of the Holocaust, to finally come into the country, on the other, Jews have been praying to return to Jerusalem for all the long centuries of their exile, and now, once back in their homeland, Jerusalem would still be under foreign rule.  With little choice, the Palestinian Jews (as represented by the Jewish Agency) accepted the partition plan and worked to ensure the necessary votes  in the General Assembly. The Arabs were opposed to any Jewish State and vowed to prevent the partition plan from being implemented.

Ironically, the same corpus separatum of Jerusalem that was so disappointing to the Jews, (and the Christian Supremacy it implied) might have been responsible for ensuring the two-thirds majority necessary for the acceptance of UNGA resolution. Of the 33 states that voted for the plan, all of them were Christian majority countries while all of the countries that voted against the partition were Moslem or had appreciable Moslem communities  (with the exception of Cuba and Greece.) But the corpus separatum for Jerusalem never was realized.

Despite the care and detail in preparing the Partition Plan, UNSCOP had neglected to provide for a mechanism to insure a smooth implementation in the form of an active armed force to prevent hostilities. Evidently ,it was assumed that the British would maintain order till both states could be established, but the British had different plans: they would step aside and allow anarchy to develop in hopes that the UN would reimpose the British control on England’s terms.

Luckily for the Yishuv, there was enough organization and resources to defend, at a very high cost in lives, the land allocated under the partition plan  and to even “conquer” areas allocated to the Arab state when those areas were used to attack  Jewish settlements or neighborhoods. During the period between the approval of the partition plan till May 1948 (when the War of Independence started), a civil was developed in Jerusalem, and the city was cut  off from the rest of the Yishuv.

Dov Yosef, who was the Military Governor (first for the Jewish Agency and afterwards for the Provisional Government) relates in his autobiography, “The Faithful City” his frustration with the UN appointed Consular Truce Commission in his  struggle for the lives and safety of Jerusalem’s Jewish residents. Beyond the lack of will, or ability to fulfill their role in guaranteeing compliance with the UN resolution, Yosef had to confront an incredible amount of condescension and even outright hostility. Christian Supremacy  prevented the consuls from even respectable behaviour towards the Jewish Yosef. DOv Yosef relates:

During the ten days of fighting [after the end of the first truce] , the Consular Truce Commission had been busy mainly in its own private war, bombarding United Nations headquarters in New York with biased accounts of what was going on. These were the days when the last lingering doubt disappeared that the Jews could hold nine tenths of Jerusalem.  For foreign diplomats living in the city, this was a shock more violent than can well be realized by anyone who did not know at first hand the intricate pattern of power in Jerusalem. When the British mandate had ended, it had seemed both right and inevitable to the consuls that they should inherit, under the United Nations cloak of legality, the subtle overlordship of the city which was based on acceptance of both the Arabs and the Jews as backward people who required some form of trusteeship. The Jews had broken suddenly out of tutelage. It was going to take time for even men of good will to learn to treat us as masters in our own house.

Under the circumstances, one can understand now why the Consular Truce Commission resented so bitterly our desperate struggle to survive: it challenged their traditional terms of reference in a thousand small but important ways.

On the basis of past UN deficiencies during the war, Ben Gurion categorically refused to consider imposition of the corpus separatum in Jerusalem once the War of Independence was over, despite the UN’s reaffirmation of the plan in UNGA 194. At the war’s end Jerusalem was divided de facto into Israeli and Jordanian controlled sections (with Jordan controlling most of the holy sites of both Jews, Moslems and Christians). The United States, still hoping for the implementation of UNGA 194 refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and established her embassy in Tel Aviv, where it is still there today.

So why is the embassy still in Tel Aviv when it is clear that UNGA 181 and UNGA 194 (which are non binding resolutions) can never be implemented? George Marshall, Truman’s Secretary of State,  feared that it would anger the Arabs and hamper the US’s access to oil supplies. George Bush (both father and son) needed Arab allies in their wars in the Middle East, and Bill Clinton needed an incentive to hold out to encourage Ehud Barak to sign an agreement with Yasir Arafat. Above all, no president till now has been willing to fight against the forces of inertia and frozen thinking in dealing with the Arab Israeli conflict. Perhaps Donald Trump will be different, but for now it is too early to know.

As for Christian Supremacy, Israel suffers with it till today. It is the main reason for the unbending denial of Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria. It is there in all the UN bodies and it is the underlying substrate that the EU is built on. Perhaps that too will change considering the migrant crisis in Europe and the change in governments that may look at Israel with more understanding. Perhaps finally the new leadership will rise to the challenge and learn to treat us, the Jews, as masters in our own house. It is about time that they should do so.

Meanwhile, we can hopefully prepare for the new Oleh’s arrival. Baruch haba l’me sheba, chaver.  For friends, especially old ones, are always welcome in Jerusalem.

And a Merry Christmas to All
About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.
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