Elections 2012

The Embassy of Zion

Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty Images

My parents met at Hebrew University; my father was born in Jerusalem, my mother in Naharia, in the north of Israel. Last year they finally became citizens of the United States. Their newly minted passports reflect the United States' official position on Jerusalem: while my mother's passport says she was born in Israel, my father's only says "Jerusalem."

As jarring as it is for me to see my father’s passport, I think it’s good that the United States does not recognize any sovereignty over Jerusalem—because the United States should not be in the business of determining the results of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Those who’ve latched onto Romney’s comment to pressure the White House into recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem in the name of what’s good for Israel are wrong about what is good for Israel.

The executive branch has held this view since 1948, but Congress not-so-respectfully disagrees. In 2002, it legislated that Americans born in Jerusalem should be allowed to name Israel as their birthplace in their passports. The New York Times reports that “when President George W. Bush signed the law, he said he would not follow it, arguing that it ‘impermissibly interferes’ with the president’s power.” The State Department, being part of the executive branch, has refused to enforce the law—so Americans have turned to the third branch of government to break the tie.

The passport case, Zivotofsky v. Clinton, No. 10-699, dealt with a suit brought by the parents of Menachem B. Zivotofsky, who was born in Jerusalem in 2002, not long after Congress passed a law ordering the State Department to record the birthplace of children born in that city as Israel if parents so requested.

The Supreme Court has sent the case back to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which decided the issue was outside the purview of judicial review. Evidently, no one wants to deal with this thorny issue.

And rightfully so. This hot potato belongs to Israelis and Palestinians alone. The past twelve presidents of the United States have been right to officially deny all sovereignty over Jerusalem, because that leaves Israel and the PA—legally, though not practically—on an equal footing when deciding the future of Jerusalem. The United States is influential enough that it might determine the fate of Jerusalem by deciding the parties’ sovereignty over the city.

If the US were to decide that Israel has sovereignty over the whole city, it would be that much easier to deny Palestinian rights to the city; if the US were to decide that Israel only has sovereignty over Jerusalem within the 1967 armistice lines, then it would be that much easier to divide the city along that line. America should pressure and influence, guide and mediate. But those who work so arduously for the good of Israel should hesitate when faced with the implications of a unilateral American decision.

Furthermore, if we set this precendent, what would stop the State Department from allowing Palestinian-Americans born in the West Bank to list “Palestine” as their place of birth? (currently, they may only list their city of birth). Currently, the only thing holding them back is this same notion: that states should make their own decisions, agreements, and treaties. And when it comes to “final status” issues, this is likely always going to be the best policy.