Absence of Embassies From Jerusalem

I was asked what seemed a very easy question: Why does no country keep an embassy in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem?

In 1947 (November 29) the United Nations called for a termination of the British Mandate over Palestine and partitioned the land into a Jewish and an Arab state. It was in 1948 that the Jewish state was declared (May 14) and later in 1949 that it was admitted to the United Nations (May11).

Sixty-three years have passed, and today there is not a single embassy in Israel’s capital. Earlier this month, the 44th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem was celebrated. Jerusalem is the largest city in Israel with approximately ten percent of Israel’s residents living there. So why, I was asked, is it that no country honors Israel by having its embassy located there?

Even the United States of America, Israel’s staunchest ally in the free world, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv. While the building overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the embassy employees can enjoy the breeze or a dip, there is something unique in Israel’s actual capital.

Maybe it is the history or archaeology, shopping and cultural centers or statues nestled throughout the City, gifts from foreign nations and local creations. Or possibly the Jerusalem stone used for all construction under municipal code gives the City her unique look. No, it must be the festive atmosphere of an ancient country celebrating its modern facade, an amazing layer built over millennia of history.

In the very center of unified Jerusalem is the Old City, with four quarters and the freedom to worship, move and assemble as all wish. It is here that Israel’s essence comes to light more than anywhere. Only under Israeli sovereign rule can all religions coexist in safety and tranquility and be assured access and freedoms.

It would seem appropriate that the nations of the world, after recognizing the legitimate claims of the Jewish people on the land of Israel and accepting Israel among the family of nations, should honor her by moving their embassies to the very core, essence and being of the Jewish state.

Alas, none does. Is this only a matter of convenience – we have been in this location (Tel Aviv) for more than half a century, so why relocate now? Is it a matter of anti-Semitism – we voted for you (or we did not vote for you, but there was a majority to accept you), but we really regret that move and want to express our frustration with your very existence? Or is it a reflection of Israel’s refusal to show self-respect that is understood by others to mean that Israel is not seriously considering her own capital worthy of protection?

Some would say that Israel is in no position to dictate where a foreign embassy should be located. Think for a second where all the foreign embassies are located in China. Right in one quarter in Beijing. Nothing goes on without the authorities knowing, including the minutest details.

How about the embassies in the American capital in the District of Columbia? Oh, we prefer to have our embassy in …

As one looks at Israeli modern history, from its Declaration of Independence some 63 years ago, it is strewn with wars. The Arabs did not accept the 1947 partition plan and attacked Israel. They did so repeatedly, refusing to accept any UN Resolution, adamantly denying the right of the Jews for a country of their own (a racist idea, they call it) and continue to dream of driving the Jews into the sea.

Today they engage in a much more sophisticated war, one aimed to win the hearts and minds of multitudes around the world. They rewrite history, destroy evidence and come up with a narrative stolen directly from the history books of Israel and the Jewish People.

Today, they engage in a fight to populate the tiny country with the so-called “refugees,” those descendants of Arabs who lived in Israel in 1948 and attacked the infant state. They want their own country AND they insist on their right to return to Jewish Israel. In essence, they want the whole area, and the Jews in the sea. They are unabashed, the Charter of Hamas and the Constitution of Fatah both call for the elimination of Israel.

So why is it that there is not a single embassy in Jerusalem today?

A question that is seemingly so simple was posed to me during a radio interview, and I set out to find the answer.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs assisted with this reply:

Simply because there is not a nation on earth that recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Up to a couple of years ago there were some Latin American embassies in Jerusalem, but under pressure they also moved to Tel Aviv and its environs.

My good friend in Jerusalem, Danny Seaman (see Wikipedia), corrected me immediately:

First off this is not true, there is one… the Christian Embassy if you insist.

Second – The international community decided to not have embassies here for political reasons. They opposed Israel’s control of Jerusalem and insisted that Jerusalem be under international control as was stipulated in the partition resolution of 1947. Since Israel’s government offices were in Tel Aviv until 1951 most countries opened embassies there and stayed there after government ministries moved to Jerusalem.

After 1967 many embassies moved to Jerusalem but after the 1973 war the countries either severed relations with Israel or moved to Tel Aviv in protest. Then when Israel annexed Jerusalem in 1980 the UN Security Council passed resolution 478 which criticized Israel’s declaration of united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and recommended that all nations remove their embassies from Jerusalem. The last ones to do so were in 2006 in response to Israel’s “aggression” in Lebanon.

The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress reports about the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2011 (introduced March 10, 2011, H.R. 1006):

States that it is U.S. policy: (1) to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel; and (2) that the U.S. Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem not later than January 1, 2013.

Amends the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 to eliminate the President’s authority to waive certain funding limitations for Department of State acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad until the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has officially opened.

Requires any official U.S. document which lists countries and their capital cities to identify Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Limits appropriations that may be obligated in FY2013 for Department acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad until the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has officially opened. States that for each of FY2012-FY2013, of funds authorized to be appropriated for Department acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad, necessary sums should be made available until expended only for construction and other costs associated with the establishment in Jerusalem of the U.S. Embassy in Israel.

The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, a public law passed 16 years ago, had not been completed by the end of the millennium, as originally required. Democrat or Republican in the White House alike has equally opposed it on national security interests. This position of the United States of America, Israel’s strongest ally, creates a solid basis for those who are less eager to support Israel in any meaningful manner from moving their embassies to Jerusalem.

A former Ambassador to Israel now back to his country adds:

Salvador and Costa Rica had change of governments and subsequently of minds – eventually giving up to the concerted Arab pressure and moving their embassies to Tel Aviv and Herzlia respectively.

It is very difficult to put a finger on it. Everybody construes a slightly different argument. Originally Jerusalem was considered corpus separatum – that is not legally part of Israel. The Arab war in 1948 created a new situation but most of the countries preferred not to get involved.

Then came the cold war and need of oil so most of the countries decided not to upset the Arab world. We can say a lot about how nonsensical this policy was and is, but that would be too complicated for a politician.

Anyway all learned to live with the split mind – that is de facto accepting Jerusalem as a capital (presenting credentials, visiting the ministry etc. etc.) and at the same time act as if Tel Aviv was more of a capital (having the office there etc.). Considering the fact that most of what is going on in the Middle East and what happens around Israel has a strong taste of absurdity, this is just a minor part of it.

So that is the current state of affairs. Everybody waits for someone to break through the stalemate and then the move to Jerusalem would be general.

There are also practical problems: For most of the time it is more interesting to live in Tel Aviv than Jerusalem – only in high summer when there are the hot laundry nights in Tel Aviv [because of the high humidity], the breeze makes Jerusalem much more pleasant.

Also Jerusalem is not ready at all. At the turn of the century when the peace process seemed to lead somewhere and the move to Jerusalem seemed plausible, Olmert admitted that Jerusalem is not ready to accommodate at least eighty plus embassies, provide homes for them and almost the same number of residences and hundreds of houses and apartments. He added that for some time it would be a logistic nightmare.

I was not aware that there were some foreign embassies in Jerusalem, although I suspected that between the 1967 unification of Jerusalem and the present, things in Israel progressed so quickly (the 1973 Day of Atonement War, followed by the Arab Oil Embargo, and then the arch-terrorist construction out of thin air of “Palestine” and “Palestinians”) that there was simply no chance to take action.

I realize now how simplified this supposition was. To move the first embassy to Jerusalem will take courage. It requires leadership, and leadership is measured by the ability of a person to stand against the tide and do the unexpected, unappreciated and often opposed move.

American presidential-hopeful Newt Gingrich recently said that his first point of foreign policy as the next president would be to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Even if he turns out not to be part of the presidential race but becomes the next Secretary of State, it would be a long overdue course of action.

With each passing day, the tide against Israel is gaining height and strength. The chances of any nation in the world recognizing Jerusalem today are dwindling quickly. The world, after all, is preparing for the day there is no Israel, so why go through the expense and headache of moving one’s embassy?

The Almighty, though, has a completely different plan. And thus, if I were to compare the immediate lack of incentive by the nations of the world to the long term plan set numerous centuries ago, I would instinctively choose the latter. Those who would dare to do so now will be rewarded beyond one’s wildest dreams.

Now, this is a challenge!

In the series “Postcards from Israel,” Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel’s on the ground, Zager’s counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related – the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts – and so is this “point – counter-point” presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.