Demise of the U.S. Consulate General to Jerusalem after 174 years

On October 18, 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the merger of the U.S. Consulate General to Jerusalem with its Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem.

Citing significant efficiencies and increased effectiveness, Pompeo said that a full range of reporting, outreach, and programming in the West Bank and Gaza as well as with Palestinians in Jerusalem will be conducted through a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the U.S. Embassy.

Pompeo added that this action does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip. “As the President proclaimed in December of last year, the United States continues to take no position on final status issues, including boundaries or borders. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.”

The Consulate General to Jerusalem was established as an independent mission in 1844. Since 1912, it has operated out of a complex on Agron Street in western Jerusalem not far from its earliest location in the Old City.

The U.S. State Department built a contemporary annex in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood. Although styled as an annex, this new campus is larger than the facilities on Agron Street.

In May 2018, the U.S. Embassy to Israel began operations on a small scale in the Arnona annex.

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The Palestinian Legislative Council: moving closer to Jerusalem

“How can we reach Jerusalem?” So asked Ahmad Qurei (Abu Alaa), former Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority (PA) and earlier (1993) the director of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR).

In his capacity as director of PECDAR and using funds from a Japanese grant, Qurei acquired land for the new offices of the Economic Ministry from a charitable trust. The parcel was supposedly in the village of Abu Dis, certainly closer to Jerusalem than the city of Ramallah. “Abu Dis is a village that belongs to Jerusalem,” explained Qurei. But, Qurei had actually chosen a location mostly within the Jerusalem municipal boundary, with Abu Dis to the east.

In an interview for Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR; see “Assembling Voices“), Qurei continued, “There is no Palestine without Jerusalem … I told [Yasser Arafat] that he was the only one that could create the necessary conditions. If he came closer to Jerusalem, he could create the conditions … his dream and hope was Jerusalem. If he could not reach Jerusalem, he would not have achieved anything.” The city of Ramallah, headquarters of the PA, is closer to Jerusalem, but not close enough.

So, Arafat’s strategy was to first move closer to Jerusalem. “The closer we come to Al Quds (Jerusalem) the closer we come to our national rights,” Qurei asserted.

Qurei hired an architect and began the construction project. Construction caught the attention of Israel’s then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In a meeting with Arafat, Rabin wanted to know what the building was. Arafat answered that it was not for him. It was for Qurei. Qurei then claimed that the building was to be his own house, a building for himself, but it could be used for the government. Rabin insisted that the construction was not permitted. He said that it was a serious matter for Israel. Qurei also received pushback from the military and from a couple of Israeli organizations (Ateret Cohanim and Elad). Nonetheless, the ministry building was finished.

“Arafat’s dream, as President of the Palestinian National Authority, was to visit the new building, to stay for several hours,” said Qurei. For Arafat’s sake, the eastern room has a view of the Haram ash-Sharif and the Al Aksa Mosque through a wide window.

About the same time, Qurei was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council – the PA’s parliament. Qurei asked the architect to add a hall for the parliament.

However, the parliament building is still incomplete and unusable because the PA does not have full autonomy in Abu Dis where the entry is.

Looking back, Qurei viewed the building as temporary. Jerusalem as it was before 1967 was going to be the capital of the Palestinian state. Nothing less would be acceptable.

Even so, the building in Abu Dis is closer to Jerusalem than Ramallah. Asked Qurei, “Isn’t that coming closer to Jerusalem?”
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DAAR interviewed three Palestinians who objected to a center of governance that excludes Palestinians wherever they are. They voiced the spirit of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence: “The State of Palestine is the state of Palestinians wherever they may be.”

The Palestinian National Council (PNC), they explain, is the true parliament of the Palestinian nation. The PNC (an arm of the PLO – Palestine Liberation Organization) still meets outside of Israel so that all its members can attend.

On the other hand, the local Legislative Council for the West Bank and Gaza is not sovereign, so how can it decide where to have a capital?

Fajr Harb, activist, objected that “politically the location is problematic” and that it represents the end result of the Oslo Accords. The legislature of the PA does not articulate the common ground and collective fate of Palestinians. It could be regarded not as a parliament but more like a municipality’s council, said Harb.
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See a photo, a map and an aerial view (from DAAR). The Guardian also covered the subject of the legislative building.

Tea and Sympathy

This time of year is when I began a pivotal life journey in 1971. I left my Chicago home for a junior year abroad at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Let me sit back to reminisce over a cup of hot tea with sugar.

My Bubbe Fischer * had passed away a short time before, on 29 Tammuz. It was then almost three weeks later.*

To proceed to my arrival in Israel, I was hosted by residents of the village Kfar Chabad on the first night when I arrived. A distinguished seatmate on my overseas flight invited me to a relative’s home. As interesting as this is, it warrants an entire account on its own.

Before I left Kfar Chabad, a resident gave me a pair of tefillin. I have been putting on tefillin ever since.

On the next afternoon, I reached Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station. From there I was supposed to go to the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University where I would be staying.

Virtually everything that I owned was loaded into an unwieldy duffle bag. In my stubbornness, I was determined to walk by following my tourist map. I refused to admit that I needed help finding a bus. Besides this, I was too stubborn to admit that I was barely able to carry the bag. (It would still be some time before I saw anyone wheeling a bag along.)

I remember the salt of sweat in my eyes and how my muscles were growing more and more tired. Shuffle along in the summer sun and rest. Shuffle along and rest. I don’t remember any more of that day.

We began the summer ulpan * the next day. The university placed me in the most advanced level of the ulpan because I had studied enough Hebrew, actually from fourth grade on. All students from abroad would receive instruction in Hebrew to help us begin the academic year.

I recall studying a modern Hebrew poem about teh v’sympatia – “tea and sympathy.” I lost interest in the course since we were learning Hebraicized Greek words that had also found their way into English. What is the Hebrew word for ‘sympathy’?

Our dormitories were surrounded by a lush lawn. We could have been in any university surroundings. The path to the university’s front gate and bus stop was wooded, and it skirted the botanic garden. I regret not having visited the garden, but thirty-two years later I would visit the university’s botanic garden on Mount Scopus.

I attended services on Shabbat – Friday night and Saturday – in the campus synagogue. They called me up to the Torah * on a regular basis. I don’t remember the Shabbat meals except for the light Shabbat third meal. We all sat in the synagogue to eat and sing. Where did we eat on Friday night or on Saturday noon?

My cup of tea has run dry as have my reminisces. I’m looking forward to another cup later on.
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* Bubbe – grandma; Bubbe Fischer was my mother’s mother.
* three weeks later – June/July
* ulpan – study of the Hebrew language
* called me up to the Torah – to say the blessings before and after the weekly Torah reading.

Basic Law- Jerusalem- Capital of Israel

(Unofficial translation, 30 July 1980)

Jerusalem, Capital of Israel 1. Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.
Seat of the President, the Knesset, the Government
and the Supreme Court
2. Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court.
Protection of Holy Places 3. The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings towards those places.
Development of Jerusalem 4. (a) The Government shall provide for the development and prosperity of Jerusalem and the well-being of its inhabitants by allocating special funds, including a special annual grant to the Municipality of Jerusalem (Capital City Grant) with the approval of the Finance Committee of the Knesset.

(b) Jerusalem shall be given special priority in the activities of the authorities of the State so as to further its development in economic and other matters.

(c) The Government shall set up a special body or special bodies for the implementation of this section.


MENAHEM BEGIN
Prime Minister

YITZCHAK NAVON
President of the State
* Passed by the Knesset on the 17th Av, 5740 (30th July, 1980) and published in Sefer Ha-Chukkim No. 980 of the 23rd Av, 5740 (5th August, 1980), p. 186; the Bill and an Explanatory Note were published in Hatza’ot Chok No. 1464 of 5740, p. 287.


Original web pages from The Knesset and from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Jerusalem in maps

Jerusalem during the British Mandate and the plan for an internationalized Greater Jerusalem – Corpus Separatem
JerusalemCorpusSeparatum

The Municipality of Jerusalem – 1949 through 1993

JerusalemMuniMapPng

Reunited Eastern and Western JerusalemJerusalemConsulateGeneral.png

 

The Jerusalem Governate according to the PA

JerusalemDistrictPA-Png

Maps have been digitally altered by Nesanel Segal from the source versions.

Actually moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

When the U.S. Department of State says that it is moving its Embassy to the State of Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it’s unlikely to become anything more than a superficial, perfunctory presence. Most embassy services will likely remain in Tel Aviv, and most employees will also remain there. Furthermore, the U.S. State Department is unlikely to go ahead and actually build the facilities for an embassy although it may acquire land. (Land that was scouted out for an embassy campus has been ruled out because it was too small to be safe. See my post “Land once earmarked for the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.”)

While the U.S. Embassy to Israel only goes back to the founding of the state in 1948, the city of Jerusalem has had its own Consulate General that was established in 1844 as an American diplomatic presence in the Holy City. This diplomatic mission was elevated to the status of Consulate General in 1928 during the period when Britain was mandated by the League of Nations to administer the lands of Palestine. At that time, the city of Jerusalem was undivided. The State Department located the Consulate General on Agron Street, slightly more than one half mile (walking along city streets) (about 850 meters) from the walled city’s Jaffa Gate.

At the end of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, an annex to the Consulate General was housed in as neutral an address as possible, neutral regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. Its location was just east of the Jordan-Israel Armistice line near the only checkpoint between Israel and the West bank, the crossing at the Mandelbaum Gate. This location of the annex to the Consulate General is a short walk to the Old City’s Damascus Gate, about one-third mile (530m).

The annex of the Consulate General moved to new, expanded facilities in 2010, a six-acre (24 dunam) campus near the Arnona neighborhood, again in as neutral a location as possible. This campus straddles the western armistice line, thereby placing the Consulate annex on what had partly been no man’s land until 1967.

“The Consulate General represents the United States in Arab Jerusalem [sic], the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip as an independent mission.” Its role has become, in the words of the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Consulate General, “… the public diplomacy arm of the U.S. Consulate, [with] primary goals … to support the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis….” (“Public Affairs Section | U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem.”)

We’ve seen how the United States has maintained a Consulate General to Jerusalem for 170 years. It has answered directly to the State Department as an independent mission but not to an embassy as most consulates do. With one quick decision of President Trump’s, the annex of the Consulate General will begin to function as an embassy. Consular services to Jerusalem will resort to the cramped, outdated facility on Agron Street. About 580 staffers now work in consular services in the annex whereas about 960 staffers work in Tel Aviv (Taylor).

President Donald Trump has reversed a foreign policy in the region that dates back to 1948. What has the U.S. Department of State known about a new embassy in Jerusalem? Probably next to nothing until President Trump made his February determination known. Evidence of this lies in how the Consulate General has yet to formulate solicitations for adaptations of existing offices for new uses. (See “Request for Quotes”.)

How much did Secretary of State Rex Tillerson know about a move in upcoming May?

As recently as last December, “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to concede that the move [of the Embassy] won’t be easy and that the process of finding a new plot of land would begin immediately. ‘Obviously, there’s a lot of planning that goes into it,’ Tillerson [former CEO of ExxonMobil] told reporters…. ‘It’s going to take some time.’”

A rash change during the Trump administration is not unexpected, though. The Washington Post’s chief correspondent Dan Balz notes, “[President Trump] pledged not to be predictable or conventional. He demonstrated that he has no fixed ideology or conviction.”

Trump has shown repeatedly he is prepared to ignore orthodoxy and question policies that other administrations have accepted as constants. (Balz. “Trump promised …”)

I believe that the May date will be marked by ceremony. Political implications will arrive and, subsequently, not go away. Moving the embassy establishes another “fact on the ground” which will frustrate Palestinian desires to include eastern Jerusalem in a Palestinian state.

Postscript:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was just relieved of his post as I was writing this essay. He is beginning to tie up loose ends and will leave the State Department on March 31, 2018. He reportedly alienated State Department colleagues during his tenure as being a poor advocate for the State Department. His replacement, Mike Pompeo (if confirmed), is expected to repair damage. Nonetheless, career diplomats may be reluctant to accept Pompeo’s thought process, a process “very similar” to President Trump’s – a disdain for diplomacy (DeYoung. “Pompeo will face …”).
I’ve seen no evidence that moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is diplomatic – certainly not toward Palestinians and other Arabs.

Sources and References

Associated Press. “Guatemala’s Israel embassy to move to Jerusalem in mid-May.” The Washington Post, The Americas, March 5, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2018.

Balz, Dan. “Trump promised this kind of presidency — unpredictable, ad hoc and impulsive.” The Washington Post, Politics • Perspective, March 10, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2018.

DeYoung, Karen and John Hudson. “Pompeo will face a host of foreign policy challenges if confirmed as secretary of state.” The Washington Post, National Security, March 13, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2018, 8:30 PM CDT.

Ignatius, David. “Tillerson’s departure removes another check on an impulsive Trump.” The Washington Post, Post Partisan • Opinion, March 13, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2018, 6:14 PM CDT.

Kontorovich, Eugene. “What Trump not signing a Jerusalem embassy waiver would really mean.” The Washington Post, The Volokh Conspiracy  • Opinion, May 30, 2017.

Mann, Amir and Ami Shinar, architects & planners. “U.S. Consulate General Annex, Jerusalem.” Web page, retrieved March 13, 2018.

Nauert, Heather, U.S. State Department Spokesperson. “Opening of U.S. Embassy Jerusalem.” Press Statement. Washington, D.C., February 23, 2018. Retrieved March 8, 2018.

Rubin, Jennifer. “Tillerson is put out of his misery.” The Washington Post, Right Turn • Opinion, March 13, 2018. Retrieved March 8, 2018, 5:55 PM CDT.

Taylor, Adam. “Where would a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem actually go?” The Washington Post, WorldViews • Analysis, December 7, 2017. Retrieved March 2018.

Tillerson, Rex W., U.S. Secretary of State. “Remarks in Press Briefing Room.” Remarks. Washington, D.C., March 13, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2018.

U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem.” Web Page, retrieved March 13, 2018.