Palestinian women walk past Israeli border police at the Damascus Gate at the entrance of the Old City in East Jerusalem in 2015.
Palestinian women walk past Israeli border police at the Damascus Gate at the entrance of the Old City in East Jerusalem in 2015.

Story highlights

Amer Zahr: No countries locate their international embassy in Jerusalem

Refusal of other nations to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is not holding it to different standard, he says

Editor’s Note: Amer Zahr is a Palestinian-American, comedian, writer and adjunct professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. You can follow him @AmerZahr. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN) —  

Last month, Jason Greenblatt, a Trump Organization executive vice president and adviser on Israel to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, told us all that Trump would be the best candidate for Israel.

While this may be true (especially if you are an ardent supporter of Israel’s current right-wing government), it seems to be an odd criterion upon which an American citizen might base his or her vote for U.S. president.

Amer Zahr
Amer Zahr

Defending Israel’s behavior in Jerusalem since 1948, Greenblatt leaves out much context and history. While it is factually true that Jordan committed gross violations during its control of Jerusalem from 1948-1967, Israel was no saint. In the aftermath of the 1948 war, at the same time Jordan was expelling roughly 1,500 Jewish residents from East Jerusalem, Israel forcibly evicted thousands of Muslim and Christian Palestinians from neighborhoods in West Jerusalem. Jewish residents occupy these homes today. Those exiled Palestinians were not given any compensation for their homes or the right to return to them, rights recognized under international law and United Nations resolutions.

In the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel illegally occupied the West Bank, Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. It then promptly razed the Moroccan Quarter of Jerusalem, without the consent of its Muslim residents, leaving hundreds homeless and destroying an ancient mosque from the time of Saladin. The Moroccan Quarter had been around for 700 years.

And while it is quite true that Jordanian forces desecrated some Jewish cemeteries in East Jerusalem, Israel, unfortunately, did the same to Muslim grave sites. After the 1948 war, Israel evacuated the Mamilla neighborhood of its Arab residents and proceeded to build a public park, restrooms and other buildings over an ancient Muslim cemetery there. The cemetery had been a sacred Muslim site for almost a thousand years.

So there is plenty more we should be considering if we want to truly understand the complexities of the region. But ultimately, Greenblatt’s argument was about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and his guarantee that Trump would declare it as such immediately upon being elected president.

Greenblatt asks quite directly: “Shouldn’t the selection of a capital city rest solely with the people of the country who reside there?”

Well, that’s not exactly how it works in our world and in the realm of international law. Recognition of a state lies upon a few principles. First, a state must have clearly defined boundaries. If I asked Greenblatt to draw the borders of Israel, I’m not sure what I would see. Would it include the West Bank and the Golan Heights, two regions that every nation and the United Nations recognize as occupied territories?

After all, as we Palestinians know all too well, the core point of “recognition” is whether other sovereign nations – and especially the most powerful ones – acknowledge an entity’s sovereignty over a particular territory. In other words, in stark contrast to Greenblatt’s insistence, international recognition, in terms of statehood and borders, is not about what you recognize about yourself, but rather about what others recognize about you.

One might also ask which “people” Greenblatt is referring to. For years now, Israel has been undertaking an open campaign to de-Arabize East Jerusalem, changing old Arabic streets names to Hebrew ones, forcibly removing residents, and overtaxing Palestinian small business owners. The Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, numbering an estimated 300,000, hold Israeli residency permits. This status means they are stateless (since they are not Israeli citizens) and cannot vote in national elections, all while being taxed and governed by the state of Israel. Shouldn’t those residents have a voice in the future and status of the city?

Since 1947, the United Nations has recognized the entirety of Jerusalem, both East and West, as a “corpus separatum.” In legal terms, this means it is a “separate body” for legal and recognition purposes. This was introduced in the 1947 United Nations Partition of Palestine, and reaffirmed in U.N. General Assembly Resolutions 181 (November 1947) and 194 (December 1948).

Join us on

In addition, at least six U.N. Security Council resolutions (252, 267, 271, 298, 476, 478) have declared Israel’s attempts to change the status of Jerusalem (including its annexation of East Jerusalem after 1967) to be in flagrant violation of international law. U.N. Security Council resolutions have the effect of binding international law upon U.N. member states, of which Israel is one.

The world does not recognize, in any legal way, shape, or form, Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. This is precisely why no U.N. member state acknowledges Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It is also why American foreign policy on this question has remained unchanged since 1947. As of today, no countries, including the United States, locate their international embassy in Jerusalem. Instead, perhaps an international, religion-neutral regime for the Holy City is the way to go.

Most importantly, we must understand what Greenblatt is advising. The refusal of the international community to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is not holding Israel to “a different standard.” It is asking Israel to abide by the same international legal norms as everyone else. When someone counsels an American president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he is essentially asking that president to violate international law and numerous United Nations resolutions. Shouldn’t we be doing exactly the opposite?