The Volokh Conspiracy

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Instead of moving the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the U.S. should move its East Jerusalem ‘embassy' to Ramallah


The U.S. Embassy building in Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

American policy with regard to Jerusalem is incoherent. On the one hand, U.S. policy has long favored a negotiated settlement between Israel and its adversaries based in some way on the 1967 armistice lines, which places West Jerusalem firmly in Israeli hands. On the other hand, the U.S. government refuses to officially recognize that any part of Jerusalem is part of Israel, because the 1947 U.N. partition allocated Jerusalem to an international body, and the entire city's fate must be determined by negotiation. As a result of this policy, American citizens born in West Jerusalem must register their country of birth as "Jerusalem," not Israel. Moreover, the U.S. government keeps its embassy in Tel Aviv rather than in West Jerusalem, the seat of Israeli government.

Nevertheless, the U.S. government maintains a consulate in East Jerusalem that serves the Arab residents of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. My understanding is that Jewish Jerusalemites may use this consulate, but they generally avoid it in favor of the embassy in Tel Aviv because the consulate mainly hires Arabic but not Hebrew speakers, and, I've heard from former State Department employees who worked in Israel, the local Arab employees of the consulate are thought to be hostile to Israeli Jews. The consulate's own website notes that "since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Consulate General has served as the de facto representative of the United States government to the Palestinian Authority."

This raises an obvious question: If the U.S. government refuses to place its Israel embassy in West Jerusalem, what possible rationale could there be for its de facto Palestinian embassy to be in East Jerusalem?

President Trump promised to move the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but has run into resistance from the professional diplomatic corps and from America's Arab allies, who warn that an embassy move would stir anti-American unrest. Fine. Leave the embassy in Tel Aviv for now. But inform Jordan and the Palestinian Authority that the U.S. consulate is moving to Ramallah, so that U.S. government policy on Jerusalem will now be consistent and not seem to prejudice the future of either half of Jerusalem. Such an announcement might even make the P.A. rethink whether it really wants to oppose having the U.S. Embassy relocate to West Jerusalem.