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US announces citizens born in Jerusalem can now list Israel on their passports

Pompeo says policy change is ‘effective immediately’; calls move ‘consistent’ with Trump’s recognition of city as Israel’s capital and opening of American embassy there

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US President Donald Trump speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone about a Sudan-Israel peace agreement, in the Oval Office on October 23, 2020 in Washington. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
US President Donald Trump speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone about a Sudan-Israel peace agreement, in the Oval Office on October 23, 2020 in Washington. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

NEW YORK — The United States will now allow US citizens born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their country of birth on passports and other consular documents, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday.

The declaration marked the reversal of a decades-old policy that refrained from identifying the city as part of the Jewish state in an effort by the US to remain neutral on a key final status issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Pompeo said in a statement that the policy change would be “effective immediately” and was “consistent” with US President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and subsequently move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The new policy will allow US citizens to choose between “Jerusalem” or “Israel” as their place of birth; those who refrain from choosing will by default continue to be issued documents with their place of birth listed as “Jerusalem.”

US policy until Thursday allowed American citizens born in Jerusalem to identify only the city as their birthplace in their passports, unless they were born before Israel’s creation in 1948, in which case their country of birth was listed as “Palestine.” The State Department policy was challenged in the Supreme Court but ultimately upheld in 2015.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bump elbows, ahead of a joint statement to the press after meeting in Jerusalem, on August 24, 2020. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)

Other policies on listing places of birth in Israel, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, and the West Bank remains unchanged, according to the statement.

Despite the policy change, Pompeo said the US “continues to take no position on the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.”

“This matter remains subject to final status negotiations between the two parties. The United States remains strongly committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement. The President’s Vision for Peace provides a realistic and achievable pathway for that peace to happen and I encourage the Palestinians to come to the table and negotiate,” Pompeo added.

The Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. The Trump peace plan proposes the village of Abu Dis as the Palestinian capital, which while on the outskirts of East Jerusalem is on the other side of the West Bank security barrier, disconnected from the city’s holy sites, making the idea a nonstarter for Ramallah.

“East Jerusalem is occupied land, [US Secretary of State Michael] Pompeo’s statements are unacceptable and constitute a flagrant violation of international law,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in a statement.

The PA has effectively boycotted the Trump administration since the president’s Jerusalem declaration.

Previous American administrations often struggled with the studied neutrality over the city, routinely making embarrassing corrections to documents identifying it as “Jerusalem, Israel.”

Thursday’s decision came amid a flurry of gestures and diplomatic activity seemingly aimed at shoring up pro-Israel Jewish and Evangelical Christian voters, with days to go before the November 3 presidential election.

On Wednesday, Israel and the US signed an agreement extending their scientific cooperation to apply as well in the West Bank, a move viewed by some as a first step toward American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the settlements.

The Trump administration has also sought to expand the list of Arab and Muslim-majority countries to normalize relations with Israel in the final months of its term. On Friday, Sudan agreed to become the third country to do so in recent months, following the lead of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain after weeks of pressure from Washington, which conditioned removing Khartoum from its blacklist of state terror sponsors on Sudan making peace with the Jewish state.

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