US always treated Jerusalem 'functionally' as Israel capital

Obama’s envoy to Israel says embassy move to Jerusalem ‘could help end conflict’

Dan Shapiro says relocation is an ‘overdue step’ that recognizes the reality of Israel’s capital and may bring the world closer to a resolution

Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro attends a farewell session at the Knesset ahead of his departure from the role on January 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro attends a farewell session at the Knesset ahead of his departure from the role on January 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Daniel Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, said on Saturday that the move initiated by US President Donald Trump to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump announced the plan in December, much to Israel’s approval, the international community’s condemnation, and the Palestinian Authority’s harsh criticism. The highly anticipated move is set for May 14, the anniversary of Israel’s founding according to the civil calendar.

The Palestinians launched over a month of violent protests in Gaza, which are set to culminate ahead of what Palestinians call their “nakba,” or catastrophe of Israel’s founding in 1948, on May 15 when demonstrations are expected to reach their peak and may spread to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to the Israeli military.

In an essay published on Saturday, Shapiro said that amid the concerns about the decision “and its impact on prospects for peace,” he would be taking the “contrarian view” that the controversial transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem “can actually help advance an end to the conflict.”

Shapiro then launched into a “brief history lesson” where he asked why the US never previously recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and linked it to the 1947 Partition Plan calling for the establishment of two states, a Jewish state and an Arab state, but treating “Jerusalem as a separate body — a corpus separatum — and dr[awing] a circle around it to indicate that the city did not belong to either state.”

A new road sign indicating the way to the new US embassy in Jerusalem is seen on May 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

“The issue was too hard to settle, so virtually every country put off making any changes to its policy until Jerusalem’s status could be resolved through negotiations. The US was among them,” he wrote, adding that this policy remained unchanged “through multiple peace initiatives over many decades.”

When the US Congress sought to advance legislation in 1995 that would require the US move its embassy to Jerusalem, “the Clinton Administration sought a waiver authority, allowing the president to delay the move by six months at a time,” Shapiro explained.

“That led to regular delays, enacted by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump to avoid igniting perhaps the most sensitive issue in the conflict, likely dooming the chances for productive negotiations,” he wrote.

“Meanwhile, Jerusalem had always been Israel’s capital, and we have always treated it functionally, if not formally, as such,” he went on, describing how when he served as US ambassador, he would be driven from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem every day “to conduct affairs of state with the Israeli government at the Prime Minister’s office, the Foreign Ministry, and the Knesset.”

Ambassador Dan Shapiro meets PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, November 7, 2012. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Ambassador Dan Shapiro (left) meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in November 2012. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Obama, he recalled, stayed at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem during his 2013 visit, while “secretaries of state have for decades based their regional diplomacy out of Jerusalem.”

Trump’s announcement to move ahead with the relocation of the embassy, was “recognizing a reality, and, in a sense, correcting a long-held historical anachronism,” Shapiro said, citing the president.

“The shattering of this taboo is useful in its own right. But it also helps return the search for a resolution to this conflict to its origins,” he wrote, calling the move an “overdue step” that may “actually bring closer the day when the issue long deemed the hardest in the conflict to solve may in fact become the most obvious.”

“Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem will help strengthen the principle that Israel’s claim to the city, born of centuries of Jewish connection to the city, is legitimate and must be recognized. It probably should have been long ago,” he said.

An Israeli man takes a picture on May 11, 2018 of a poster placed near the compound of the US consulate in Jerusalem, which will host the new US embassy, as posters praising the US president hang in the street.

The US, he went on, needs “similar clarity… that the Palestinians, with their own historical and religious ties, have a valid claim to East Jerusalem.”

“A negotiated boundary to include a sovereign Palestinian capital in a unified city — as part of a broader agreement — is both reasonable and doable,” Shapiro argued, citing reports that the US Mideast negotiations team is “eyeing four Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem as the basis of a Palestinian capital there,” and changes among Israeli leaders “even on the right, [who] are daring to experiment with this question, long a third rail in Israeli politics.”

Even as the conflict “is not anywhere close to a resolution, for myriad reasons,” solving the issue of Jerusalem, Shapiro said “would only advance the cause of achieving a conflict-ending deal.”

On Friday, Trump hailed the “big week” of the impending move of the embassy, tweeting: “Big week next week when the American Embassy in Israel will be moved to Jerusalem. Congratulations to all!”

Trump is set to deliver a video address for the opening of the new embassy, senior administration officials told reporters Friday morning.

Among the administration members attending are John J. Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and daughter Ivanka Trump.

Roughly 800 guests will attend the ceremony. Officials say the US delegation doesn’t plan to meet any Palestinian officials during their visit.

The embassy is opening in part of a pre-existing American visa-and-passport facility with a fraction of the total US personnel in Israel.

The US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is expected to split his time between the new embassy in Jerusalem and his offices in Tel Aviv.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman gives a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 11, 2018, ahead of its opening on May 14 (Screenshot)

On Friday, Friedman gave a glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, showing off workers erecting the official seal on the building and preparing for the opening ceremony.

“We are so excited,”  Friedman said in a video posted on the embassy’s Facebook page. “We have the official seal of the United States embassy. We have the dedication plaque. They are covered right now, but on Monday they are going to be unveiled.”

“This year, thanks to the US administration, the courage, the vision of President Donald Trump we can say ‘this year in Jerusalem,'” he said, referencing the Passover wish of “next year in Jerusalem.”

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