A city in limbo: Jerusalem mayor urges Obama to recognize ‘capital of Israel’

Published June 9th, 2015 - 07:51 GMT
Al Bawaba
Al Bawaba

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Monday urged US President Barack Obama to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, hours after the US Supreme Court struck down a law to permit Americans born in Jerusalem to list their birthplace as Israel in their US passports.

The landmark ruling, which backed the president’s official stance on Jerusalem, was also fiercely criticized by MK Michael Oren — formerly the Israeli ambassador to the US — while the Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

“Just as Washington is the capital of the US, London is the capital of England, and Paris the capital of France — so too Jerusalem was and always will be the capital of Israel,” Barkat said in a statement.

Pointing to rising anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the mayor said, “I call on US President Barack Obama to publicly declare what we’ve known for generations — that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and Israel is the home of the Jewish people.”

Oren, a Knesset member from the center-right Kulanu party and a former US citizen, also denounced the ruling, which he said was “damaging to Israel’s sovereignty and to the alliance of Israel and the United States.

“Today, to my regret, the court rejected the appeal on the claim that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is in the unique purview of the president and behold — President [Barack] Obama uses this authority and chooses not to recognize Jerusalem as our capital,” he said.

“I gave up my American citizenship at the time, but my daughter Lia, who is still an American citizen, was born in Jerusalem, Israel, despite what her passport says.”

The Supreme Court decision also drew criticism from the Orthodox Union, which said in a statement it was “disappointed” by the move.

“But we are more disappointed by the persistent policy of the United States government — carried out by successive presidents — to treat the capital city of Israel with less respect than that accorded to capital cities of virtually every other nation. Jerusalem is unquestionably the capital of Israel,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the OU.

“Even after this court decision, it is high time for the US administration to acknowledge the reality of Israel’s capital — Jerusalem,” he added.

The court ruled Monday 6-3 that Congress had overstepped its bounds when it approved the law in 2002. It would have forced the State Department to alter its longstanding policy of not listing Israel as the birthplace for Jerusalem-born Americans.

The policy is part of the government’s refusal to recognize any nation’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, until Israelis and Palestinians resolve its status through negotiations.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the president has the exclusive power to recognize foreign nations, and that the power to determine what a passport says is part of this power.

“Recognition is a matter on which the nation must speak with one voice. That voice is the president’s,” Kennedy wrote.

The ruling ends a 12-year-old lawsuit by a Jerusalem-born American, Menachem Zivotofsky, and his US citizen parents.

Israel’s government declined to comment, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon saying Israel does not comment on rulings by foreign courts.

Justice Antonin Scalia read a summary of his dissent from the bench, saying the Constitution “divides responsibility for foreign affairs between Congress and the president.” Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito joined the dissent.

In a separate dissent, Roberts cast the court’s decision as dangerously ground-breaking. “The court takes the perilous step — for the first time in our history — of allowing the president to defy an act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs,” Roberts wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the outcome of the case, but on narrower grounds.

The court’s consideration of the case has coincided with acute Palestinian-Israeli tension over Jerusalem and strain in Israeli-American relations highlighted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism of the US role in international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. For his part, US President Barack Obama has said he remains unconvinced by Netanyahu’s efforts to clarify preelection statements rejecting the creation of a Palestinian state.

The status of Jerusalem has for decades been among the most vexing issues in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Israel has controlled all of Jerusalem since the Six Day War in 1967 and has repeatedly proclaimed a united Jerusalem as its eternal capital. The Palestinians have declared that East Jerusalem will be the capital of their independent state.

Congress and the White House have argued for decades over support for Israel’s position on Jerusalem.

In 1995, Congress essentially adopted the Israeli position, saying the US should recognize a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In 2002, lawmakers passed new provisions urging the president to take steps to move the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and allowing Americans born in Jerusalem to have their place of birth listed as Israel.

President George W. Bush signed the 2002 provisions into law, but noted that “US policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed.” President Obama has taken the same stance.

By Marissa Newman

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