American & Israeli Policies on Jerusalem

September 06, 2012 IMEU


  • Since Israel began its military occupation in 1967, no US president has recognized Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.
  • For decades, Jerusalem has been used as a political football for both Republican and Democratic politicians seeking votes from the American Jewish community and evangelical Christian Zionists, the latter of whom support Israel and Israeli control over the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, for theological reasons.
  • In 1992, Bill Clinton said while running for the presidency that he supported "the principle of moving our embassy to Jerusalem." However, after taking office he failed to do so.
  • In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act (JEA), which called for the US to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the American embassy there "no later than May 31, 1999." Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have all signed presidential waivers since then delaying the implementation of the act, citing the prerogative of presidents to set foreign policy.
  • Since at least 1996, the Republican party platform has called for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, with the 2000 version stating: "Immediately upon taking office, the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem." During the 2000 presidential campaign, candidate George W. Bush attacked outgoing President Bill Clinton for not adhering to the JEA, promising "as soon as I take office I will begin the process of moving the U.S. ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital." Like Clinton, however, President Bush failed to do so after assuming office.
  • In 2002, Congress passed a law allowing American citizens born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their country of birth on their passports. Subsequently, Presidents Bush and Obama failed to apply the law. In May 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled that a Federal Court can decide whether a child born in Jerusalem in 2002 to American parents can have Israel listed as his birth country on his passport. The decision came after a lengthy legal battle waged by the child's parents.
  • According to a report published by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, members of the powerful pro-Israel lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were present during the drafting and approved the 2012 Democratic platform section having to do with the Middle East, which has been harshly criticized by Republicans.



(Click here for 2010 map of settlements in East Jerusalem)
(Click here for interactive "Jerusalem and its Environs" map)

  • Following the 1967 War, Israel radically expanded the municipal boundaries of East Jerusalem by about 45 square miles (more than 17,000 acres) into the occupied West Bank, subsequently annexing it. Neither move has been recognized by the international community. 
  • Since 1993, Israel has prohibited non-Jerusalemite Palestinians from entering the city unless they obtain an Israeli-issued permit, which is rarely granted. As a result, over four million Palestinians are routinely denied access to their holy places in Jerusalem, are prohibited from studying in East Jerusalem, and are denied certain medical treatments that are only available in East Jerusalem hospitals.
  • According to the 2009 US State Department International Religious Freedom Report: "Many of the national and municipal policies in Jerusalem were designed to limit or diminish the non-Jewish population of Jerusalem."


The 'Judaization' of East Jerusalem

  • According to Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem: "Since East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967, the government of Israel's primary goal in Jerusalem has been to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city. To achieve this goal, the government has been taking actions to increase the number of Jews, and reduce the number of Palestinians, living in the city."
  • In 2010, Jerusalem city councilman Yakir Segev explained: "We will not allow residents of the eastern [occupied Palestinian] part of the city to build as much as they need... At the end of the day, however politically incorrect it may be to say, we will also look at the demographic situation in Jerusalem to make sure that in another 20 years we don't wake up in an Arab city."
  • Methods used by Israel as part of an effort to "Judaize" or alter the religious composition of Jerusalem by increasing the number of Jews while decreasing the number of Palestinians, include:
    • Revoking residency rights and social benefits of Palestinians who stay abroad for at least seven years, or who are unable to prove that their "center of life" is in Jerusalem. Since 1967, Israel has revoked the residency rights of about 14,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians, of which more than 4,500 were revoked in 2008.
    • Encouraging Jewish settlement in historically Palestinian-Arab areas. While severely restricting the expansion of Palestinian residential areas and revoking Palestinian residency rights, the Israeli government, through official and unofficial organizations, encourages Jews to move to settlements in East Jerusalem.
    • Systematic discrimination in municipal planning and the allocation of services and building permits. According to a 2011 report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
      Since 1967, Israel has failed to provide Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem with the necessary planning framework to meet their basic housing and infrastructure needs. Only 13 percent of the annexed municipal area is currently zoned by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian construction, much of which is already built-up. It is only within this area that Palestinians can apply for building permits, but the number of permits granted per year to Palestinians does not begin to meet the existing demand for housing and the requirements related to formal land registration prevent many from applying. As a result, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem find themselves confronting a serious shortage in housing and other basic infrastructure. Many residents have been left with no choice other than to build structures "illegally" and therefore risk demolition and displacement.
    • Demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures built without difficult to obtain permission from Israeli authorities. Since 1967, approximately 2000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in East Jerusalem. According to official Israeli statistics, from 2000 to 2008 Israel demolished more than 670 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. The number of outstanding demolition orders is estimated to be as high as 20,000. According to Human Rights Watch's 2012 World Report:
      Israel usually carries out demolitions on the grounds that the structures were built without permits, but in practice such permits are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain in Israeli-controlled areas, whereas a separate planning process available only to settlers grants new construction permits much more readily.



  • The international community does not recognize Israel's claim to the eastern part of the city, which it miliarily occupied in 1967. In legal terms, East Jerusalem is no different than the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza), which is why no major country - including the United States - has its Israel embassy in Jerusalem. As such, Israel has no internationally recognized legal claim to any part of East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites.
  • Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem has been repeatedly rejected by the international community through a series of UN Security Council resolutions, including Resolutions 252, 267, 471476 and 478. Resolution 252 (1968) states that the Security Council "[c]onsiders that all... actions taken by Israel... which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status."
  • In 1980, Israel's parliament proclaimed Jerusalem the "eternal undivided capital" of Israel. Less than a month later, the UN Security Council rejected the claim of Israeli sovereignty over occupied East Jerusalem with Resolution 478, which declared the Israeli law "null and void," and calling for it to be "rescinded forthwith."
  • In July 2004, while ruling that the wall Israel is building in the West Bank is illegal, the International Court of Justice also deemed the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem to be under Israeli military occupation.
  • The High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), consider East Jerusalem, along with the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Syrian Golan Heights, to be territories militarily occupied by Israel. According to a ICRC 2001 statement:
[The ICRC] has always affirmed the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the territories occupied since 1967 by the State of Israel, including East Jerusalem... As an Occupying Power, Israel is also bound by other customary rules relating to occupation, expressed in the Regulations annexed to the Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land of 18 October 1907.