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New U.S. Embassy May Be in Jerusalem, but Not in Israel

The Palestinians are less equivocal.

“No Man’s Land is occupied territory,” said Ashraf Khatib of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department. “Any permanent status for that territory should be part of a final status negotiation.”

The dispute could turn the American ambassador, David M. Friedman, an avid supporter of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, into a new kind of diplomatic settler himself.

The plan is for the embassy to be housed in what is now the consular services section of the United States Consulate General in Jerusalem while the search is on for a permanent site. The fortresslike compound sits partly in predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem and partly in a section of No Man’s Land between West Jerusalem and predominantly Arab East Jerusalem.

The American Embassy move veers from almost seven decades of American policy, and that of much of the rest of the world, which considers the status of Jerusalem subject to negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, who each claim it as their capital. Critics say the embassy move prejudges the outcome of any future negotiations over the city.

But if the American recognition was already vague, leaving the eventual boundaries of sovereignty in Jerusalem up to the Israelis and the Palestinians, this odd quirk of political geography raises even sharper questions about which parts of the city the United States considers as Israel’s capital.

That requires some historical unpacking.

After the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation, Israel signed an armistice agreement with Jordan, which controlled the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The sides demarcated the armistice line on a map in grease pencil. Where they did not agree they drew their own lines staking out their maximalist positions — the Israelis in green, as far as possible to the east, the Jordanians in red, to the west.

Photo

The United States Ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, right, may be considered a sort of settler when the new embassy opens. Credit Pool photo by Heidi Levine

The disputed enclaves, called the “areas between the lines,” were under neither party’s control and came to be known as No Man’s Land.

A senior United Nations official, who was granted anonymity to discuss a particularly sensitive diplomatic issue, said it was impossible to tell from the 1949 map exactly which parts of the Arnona consular compound sit where. The lines were drawn with the thickness of a crayon, and none of the current development in the area existed then.

But any part between the lines would be considered occupied territory, he said.

After 1949, both Israel and Jordan claimed the territory, holding that its status would be determined in an eventual agreement. When the 1967 war broke out, the Jordanian and Israeli armies fought over it.

Raphael Israeli, a professor emeritus at Hebrew University and a former Israeli delegate to the Israel-Jordan Mixed Armistice Commission, says that neither Israel nor Jordan had formal jurisdiction of it. “They simply invaded it,” he said.

Today, he said, after 50 years of Israeli possession and no country having had sovereignty over it beforehand, questions about its status are moot.

“You can start making hairsplitting arguments,” he said, “but it seems so obsolete now. Things got blended together, and I don’t know any more which is what and what belongs to whom.”

After 1949, the Israelis set about fencing and farming land on their side of the territory. A Jordanian road to Bethlehem meandered through.

Both sides stationed troops in the zone. There were also instances of cooperation, such as when Jordan agreed to work with Israeli experts to eradicate a moth-borne blight infesting pine trees in the area.

But when an Israeli entrepreneur began constructing a hotel on a slope in the zone in 1963, the Jordanians lodged a complaint and the work was stopped.

The hotel, named the Diplomat, was opened after the Israeli victory in 1967. Located on the grounds of the consular compound, it is now owned by the United States and leased out as housing for elderly Russian-speaking immigrants.

Before moving to Arnona in 2010, the American consular section that served Arabs and Jews was in East Jerusalem. The United States Consulate General that deals with the Palestinian Authority is in West Jerusalem.

Eugene Kontorovich, the director of international law at the conservative Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, contends that by moving the embassy to the Arnona site the United States is recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over areas it captured in the 1967 war.

“Much more important than what the State Department says, it is what their actions say,” Mr. Kontorovich said. “You don’t build an embassy in territory that is not sovereign to Israel.”

Source: NYT > World

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