The United States Will Not Be Moving Its Embassy to Jerusalem

President Donald Trump declared on December 6, 2017, that the U.S. Department of State should begin a process of moving the United States embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital.

Some call President Trump’s declaration a governmental decision. Regardless of how anyone parses his statement, President Trump has submitted waivers of the 1995 U.S. law that mandates moving the embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This law, passed by Congress in 1995, is the “Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Implementation Act of 1995” (Public Law No: 104-45 *). During a waiver period, the State Department doesn’t have to present a progress report to Congress. Every six months since 1995 or so, Presidents have signed this waiver, thereby keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv. Waivers are based on protecting the national security interests of the United States.

President Trump’s declaration coincides with a belated report to Congress. (The report was due on December 4th. No one is sweating the forty-eight hours.)

For the near future (roughly two years), the U.S. State Department doesn’t anticipate any practical changes.

Essentially, President Trump’s statement is political posturing and even pandering. The U.S. has already conducted official business in Jerusalem in “de facto recognition of its status as the capital of Israel.”

Congress allocates funds to the State Department’s account “Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad.” From these funds, the State Department already built a new campus for its Consulate General of Jerusalem – an independent mission – which opened in 2009. The State Department has no intention even to look for land for a new embassy yet alone engage architects, engineers, or begin any other steps for construction.

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* See a PDF version of this act as printed by the Public Law No: 104-45.

The Congressional bill became Public Law No: 104-45 without being signed by President Bill Clinton and without being returned to Congress.

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The Oslo Accord

Doesn’t anyone remember the Oslo Accord of 1995 (known as Oslo II)?

The State of Israel signed a treaty with the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinians. Palestinians had officially decided that only Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were authorized to negotiate on their behalf.

Both sides to the treaty signed, with several nations adding their authorized signatures as witnesses. The signing ceremony was televised and received plenty of air-time.

Israel’s military occupation remains intact on land that was designated Area C. Area C’s status has remained virtually the same as it had been since the Six-Day War in 1967.

The Oslo process since 1995 has failed, though. Nevertheless, the Oslo Accord of 1995 is the law of the region.

There has ceased to be a “Green Line” except in terms of defining the extent of the Accord. The Green Line had been the cease-fire line between Jordan’s military, the Arab Legion, and the State of Israel. Since the Oslo Accord, the Kingdom of Jordan signed a treaty with Israel and thereby renounced its illegal annexation of the West Bank (after 1949). Jordan has committed itself not to violate its international border by sending troops across this border.

Since its treaty with Israel, Jordan has conducted itself according to international law.

When Israel builds security barriers, it builds them within Area C where its military makes security decisions in accordance with the Oslo Accord.

Plaintiffs have brought a few cases before Israel’s High Court of Justice. This court has consistently ruled that the principle behind the security barriers is legal. On a couple of occasions, this court has elaborated stipulations that barriers not create undue or unnecessary hardships for Palestinians.

A couple of rulings of Israel’s High Court of Justice have ordered Israel’s military to develop plans for relocating a barrier according to the court’s stipulations. The court has exercised its authority to examine and approve the revised plans.

Palestinians still don’t recognize the legitimacy of the designation Area C. It is, according to them, “their land” even before any future negotiations with Israel.

The international community, especially the United Nations, have blithely ignored articles in the Oslo Accord. When Israel tears down new Palestinian construction, this construction is in Area C.

A popular refrain from Palestinians has been how hard it is for them to get building permits. This is not surprising since they have no standing to receive permits to build  anything in Area C at all.

Most journalists are blissfully ignorant of law when they cover issues, wherever in the world an issue arises. Even Israelis who receive information from domestic journalistic sources seem to remain ignorant of the terms of the Oslo Accord.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, “there are lies, damn lies, and journalism.”

The Golan Heights have not always been part of Syria

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, Britain and France divided an immense sweep of Southwest Asia (the Near East or the Middle East in European parlance) into two mandates, the spheres of influence that they coveted. The French were to administer Syria and Lebanon. The British were to administer Palestine, Trans-Jordan, and Iraq (again in European parlance).

In the first treaties after the war, the British were to administer the lower slope of Golan Heights as part of Palestine. In 1923, a comprehensive agreement, the last Treaty of Lausanne, included negotiations with the new Republic of Turkey. At this time, France and Britain adjusted the border by exchanging the Golan – to France – for a nearby region around Metula – to Mandated Palestine.

For sources see: National Geographic. 2008. Atlas of the Middle East, Second Edition (Washington, DC) p. 98.  Also: Dan Smith. 2016. The Penguin State of the Middle East Atlas, Third Edition. New York: Penguin Books, p. 36-37.

The locals who lived on the Golan slope – who were not Jewish – were unhappy. Either they did not want to live under French administration or they didn’t see themselves as having much in common with Syria.

As has been typical, the Great Powers drew and have been drawing Middle Eastern borders without consulting the people most closely affected.

When Israel conquered the Golan Heights in 1967, remaining descendants of the post-World-War-I residents no longer had to live under Syrian rule.

Also in 1967, virtually the entire watershed of the Galilee was contained in one jurisdiction. When the State of Israel applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights in 1981, the entire region, on both sides of the upper Jordan River, was unified politically with defensible borders and one legal system.

In 1967, the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan, originating in the 1950s, began to serve the primary stakeholders – Jordan and Israel. The Syrians and Lebanese had only been interfering by diverting water from both Israel and Jordan in violation of their agreements to the Water Plan.

In addition, Syria and Lebanon had not been interested in eradicating malaria from the Huleh Valley. Again, they were not stakeholders. I shouldn’t have to note that mosquitoes carrying malaria do not recognize political arrangements.

I do note that the Hasbani River rises in Lebanon and runs for 25 miles before it enters Israel. Lebanese stakeholders are partners in the Unified Water Plan, but the Arab League does not recognize this agreement and encourages mischievous violations within Lebanon.

Also of note:  People who live in the Dara’a Governorate of southwestern Syria, as well as Jordanians, are stakeholders in the water resources of the lower reaches of the Jordan River. Syria’s Dara’a Governorate abuts the Golan Heights south of Syria’s Quneitra Governorate. The Quneitra Governorate lies partly in the disengagement zone between Syria and Israel along the plateau ridge of Israel’s upward slope of the Golan. Dara’a was an early site of conflict in the Syrian civil war, 2011.

Palestinian Refugees

The refugee camps for Palestinians during and after the Israeli War for Independence were set up between 1948 and 1951.

This means that the youngest refugee is about 65 years old (in 2016). The life expectancy of Palestinians is around 72 years old.

Those younger than about 65 years old in these camps is a child, grandchild, or great-grandchild of the actual refugees, but not refugees themselves.

The youngest of the refugees have no or little memory of having lived in Palestine, unless one considers life in refugee camps as life in Palestine or Gaza.

I am not writing this glibly.

Almost everywhere else in the world, refugees have been resettled within a few years. In addition, they are rarely given political grounds for demanding a right to return to where they used to live. Some refugees do return, but this is rare.

When the Indian sub-continent was partitioned into separate Hindu and Muslim areas in 1947, becoming the nation states India and Pakistan:

The separation from Hindu-dominated areas granted to India was accompanied by widespread Hindu-Muslim rioting, the transfer of about 8,000,000 Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan (especially from the Punjab) to India, and the forced relocation of about 6,000,000 Muslims from India to Pakistan. War erupted with India over Muslim dominated Jammu and Kashmir and ended in 1949 with a cease-fire line. . . .

(“Pakistan,” Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge. Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier, 1991. p. 193)

Note the words ‘forced relocation’ and ‘transfer’. Neither of these two words is used when describing the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.

Of the roughly 14,000,000 people who were transferred or relocated between 1947 and 1949, the youngest are now about 67 years old (2016). The life expectancy in the region is around 60 years old.

The current cease-fire line in Kashmir is called a “line of control.” India and Pakistan have fought a couple of wars since the first cease-fire. China, for its part, invaded India and took over the region of Kashmir to the east of the Karakoram Range in 1962.


The United Nations makes decisions from majority, political considerations. The United Nations defines a refugee from Palestine as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, are also eligible for registration.

When the UN Agency – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) – began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services. (“Who We Are – UNRWA“, retrieved May 9, 2016)