Yes to an American Embassy in Jerusalem. Someday.

Yes, as a patriotic Israeli and a Jerusalemite I’m in favor of having a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. In fact, I will be very happy and proud when all the countries with which we have diplomatic relations — and may their numbers grow! — have embassies in Jerusalem. But it’s all a question of when and how it happens.

In all of Israel’s talks and agreements with the Palestinians, and indeed with all countries with which we have relations, we are expected and in many cases explicitly promise not to take unilateral steps. The U.S., if it has any intention of trying to maintain the status of “honest  broker”, must also refrain from such actions. That is not to say that all parties have not been making unilateral actions all the time: Israel continues to build settlements that are illegal even according to its own laws, refused to allow Palestinians to run activities in Orient House or other properties, and withdrew unilaterally from Gaza without any coordination with the PA, one of the reasons that step was such a disaster. The Palestinians have not been active in fighting incitement, have promoted anti-Israel declarations in the U.N., and are now threatening to reneg on their recognition of Israel. The full list is of course longer. But such a public, publicized and tangible violation of Israel’s promises that will affect one of the key subjects on the negotiations agenda will inevitable harden the stance of all involved, if not make any negotiations impossible, and perhaps worse.

Furthermore, a decision about the site of any embassy in Jerusalem should not and cannot be an isolated matter. According to every plan ever put on the table, from Rogers to the Clinton Road Map, West Jerusalem’s Israeli neighborhoods are to form IsraeliJerusalem, the capital of Israel. East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods are to form Palestinian Jerusalem, the Palestinian capital. All negotiations have centered on sovereignty and control over the holy sites and the Old CIty, which is less than one square kilometer. If and when the U.S. chooses to move its embassy to Jerusalem, it should also open an embassy in East Jerusalem. That, incidentally, is not unlike the situation today whereby affairs in West Jerusalem are handled by the staff of the embassy in Tel Aviv and the consulate in Jerusalem deals with East Jerusalem. Recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be a worthy and desirable result of negotiations and comprises that would include acknowledging East Jerusalem as an independent city to be run by its 350,000 residents who currently have no citizenship.

So, yes, attaining international recognition of our nation’s capital is a worthy goal. It is sad that today not a single country in the world recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Perhaps we can reach it by our 70th anniversary. But it must be set as an aim in the framework of talks, not made into a provocation that could bring upon us yet another disaster.


About the Author
Dr Laura Wharton is a member of Jerusalem's City Council as a representative of Meretz and an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University. Born in the U.S., she immigrated to Israel after receiving a B.A. in the Department of Government at Harvard University and then served a full term in the Israel Defense Forces. She subsequently completed a Master's degree and a Ph.D. at Hebrew University. She is a mother of two and has been living in Jerusalem for more than a decade.