SCOTUS Could Force Obama’s Hand on Jerusalem

November 5th, 2011 at 8:27 am David Frum | 38 Comments |

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In my column for the National Post, I discuss how a Supreme Court case might force the White House to explain its policy towards Jerusalem:

Two can play at this game. Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have abandoned negotiations with Israel. They are seeking UN recognition of Palestinian statehood: statehood without peace. Already they have gained one victory: acceptance as a full member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Yet this victory may be their last.

The United States has cut off its support for UNESCO, a warning to other UN agencies to take care. Meanwhile, Israel and friends of Israel are emulating the Palestinian example: unilaterally settling issues that the Palestinians refuse to negotiate. One important example of this pro-Israeli approach is the legal case of Zivotofsky vs. Clinton, to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

The question in the case: Can a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem cite his or her birthplace as “Jerusalem, Israel” in his or her passport? Or only (as now) “Jerusalem,” without any further mention of any country?

The issue might seem trivial. After all, how much does it matter what a passport says? Since the 1990s, U.S. citizens born in Taiwan have been allowed to carry passports that cite “Taiwan” as if it were a distinct country. That legal nicety neither adds to nor detracts anything from Taiwan’s security with regard to its menacing neighbor on the Chinese mainland. Besides, the technical issue before the Supreme Court inZivotofsky is not the status of Jerusalem itself. The issue is the balance of power between Congress and the executive. The Supreme Court will consider whether Congress can issue such a directive to the executive branch. And that issue is unaffected by whether the passports say “Jerusalem, Israel” or “Timbuctoo, TimHortonstan.”

And yet of course everybody involved recognizes that the outcome of the Zivotofsky case will carry immense symbolic significance regardless of its practical effect. So much so, in fact, that the Obama administration has scoured the electronic records of the U.S. government to scrub every instance of any mention of “Jerusalem, Israel” in any previous administration document.

For example, until Aug. 9 of this year, the White House website carried a photo captioned: “Vice President Joe Biden laughs with Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Israel, March 9, 2010.” That day, the photo was recaptioned: “Vice President Joe Biden laughs with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010.”

Why does the Obama administration care?

Click here to read the full column.

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38 Comments so far ↓

  • tommybones

    The World Court already settled this matter.

    • paul_gs

      The same “World Court” that told Israel to tear down its protective walls, pay compensation and said that the US and Britain were obliged to ensure Israel complied? LOL.

      • tommybones

        Yes, that same World Court. What’s funny? That the U.S. and Israel don’t believe any laws apply to them? That’s funny? It’s sad, actually.

  • ottovbvs

    The US has cut off support for UNESCO before when Reagan was president but it survived and we ended up sneaking back in because basically it makes us look awfully small and surrenders this area of cultural influence to others. This particular case is in reality a fairly trivial issue but it does throw into relief where the principal loyalties of Frum lie. Basically he’s hoping the supreme court is going to “force the hand” of a US president in the exercise of its foreign policy regardless of what that president and his administration perceive to be the best interests of the US. Am I alone in finding this not particularly admirable behavior.

  • dubmod

    Really? This is the kind of tribalism that starts wars and keeps no idea politicians in office. How sad that someone with Frum’s intellect would cheerlead this stupidity.

  • TerryF98

    Frum’s priorities are always Israel first.

    America’s interests are way down the list. Maybe it’s time for him to follow his first love and move there.

  • Watusie

    The question is often asked – Frum recognizes just what a hideous candidate Mitt Romney is, but yet Frum backs Mitt Romney over Barack Obama – why? I think this article provides the answer: Romney has made it clear that his foreign policy will be to follow along with whatever Israel wants, regardless of what America’s interests actually are.

    • Elvis Elvisberg

      Or Israel’s.

      The US mails $3 billion per year to Israel, which buys us the ability to not persuade Israel to stop stealing land and building settlements in a manner hostile to long-term US & Israeli interests.

      Surveying this state of affairs, David Frum occasionally says snarky things about how lousy the Palestinians are. E.g., here: (Imagine if this story involved Palestinians behaving badly, rather than Orthodox Jews. We’d certainly be more likely to learn about it at Frum Forum: ).

      It’s the exact kind of strategery that led him to write the Axis of Evil speech, and the book “An End to Evil”. (I frankly can’t imagine a more radical/less conservative sentiment).

      It doesn’t seem to be a very effective approach.

      The US had a substantial margin of error. So, yeah, we lost 4500 servicemen & -women in Iraq, and saw maybe 100,000, maybe a million Iraqis die, and spent about a trillion dollars, all for no reason, but we’re probably going to be all right.

      Israel, though… I don’t see how “take whatever we want regardless of the impact on our democracy or whether that makes everyone else in the region hate us” is a plausible long-term strategy for a country of about 9 million people. And I’m not the only one:

      A former chief of Israeli intelligence, Meir Dagan, has urged political leaders to embrace the so-called Saudi peace initiative under which Israel would withdraw to its 1967 borders and give East Jerusalem back to the Palestinians. In a forthright contradiction of the position of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that a withdrawal to 1967 borders posed an unacceptable security risk, Mr Dagan said Israel ”must present an initiative to the Palestinians”. ”We must adopt the Saudi initiative,” Mr Dagan said. ”We have no other way, and not because [the Palestinians] are my top priority, but because I am concerned about Israel’s wellbeing and I want to do what I can to ensure Israel’s existence. ”If we don’t make proposals and if we don’t take the initiative, we will eventually find ourselves in a corner.”

      Also in agreement: Palestinians and Israelis.

      But the delusion of omnipotence, from the Bushesque Netanyahu, is the path Israel is on right now. I don’t see any way that it ends well for Israel or anyone else in the neighborhood.

      • jagerine

        I definitely wouldn’t want to be spit on, but did you really just compare committing murder to spitting on someone? what is the matter with you?

        • Elvis Elvisberg

          No, I didn’t.

          Why can’t you read for comprehension? What is the matter with you?

  • Graychin

    “Meanwhile, Israel and friends of Israel are emulating the Palestinian example: unilaterally settling issues that the Palestinians refuse to negotiate.”

    This is something new? What is the meaning of the ever-increasing settlement activity in the occupied territories?

    “The issue might seem trivial.”

    Yes, it might. But no doubt it is important symbolism if official American recognition is given to the phrase “Jerusalem, Israel.” It’s likely just significant to Israel as “Taiwan, China” is to the Chinese. And it’s very hard to imagine the status of Jerusalem having been something about which Israel was ever willing to negotiate seriously.

    I suppose that when one writes for the National Post, one has a particular audience that will be pleased by this column. But for those of us who see right and wrong on both sides of the Palestinian Question, this column is worrying. With pointless symbolism, should America forfeit what little pretense that remains that we can serve as an honest broker in the Middle East?

    Finally, reading a column like this always makes me ask a larger question: in a perfect world, what is the writer’s vision for the ideal final status of the Palestinian people?

  • zaybu

    I’ll make no bones in hiding that I’m a supporter of Israel, but Obama is right. Jerusalem is not part of Israel, and its status has to be negotiated between the parties involved, both Israelis and Palestinians.

  • Danny_K

    But the SCOTUS can’t make the US, or any other country, move its embassy to Jerusalem.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Since the 1990s, U.S. citizens born in Taiwan have been allowed to carry passports that cite “Taiwan” as if it were a distinct country.

    Yeah, but that is the same case with Hong Kong and Macau and the Chinese don’t care about that because of their whole “one country, two systems” and Puerto Rico has its own Olympic team, just like it were a dinstinct country too.

    As to Jerusalem, I see no reason why the US should make a definitive statement with regards to the status of the city if it hopes to remain an honest broker in the region.
    If David wants the US to wash its hands of the peace process and give Israel a green light to do whatever it wants, just say so.

    Here is a point that was very troubling by David:
    The president’s answer on security, although much vaguer than his answer on borders, was even more troubling than his answer on borders: “Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be co-ordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.” Translation: In the future, Israeli security will ultimately depend on Palestinian co-operation. Good luck with that.)

    Translation of his translation, an Independent Palestine must never be truly independent and can never be relied upon to co-operate with Israel, ergo there must never be an independent Palestine.

    Why not just advocate Israel annex the West Bank and declare the Palestinians non citizen permanent residents? Oh, wait, he can’t say it he can only make it so and pretend otherwise.

    Graychin is right, Frum has zero answer to what to do with the Palestinians. Personally I think Israel should impose the Barak Clinton borders as laid out in 2000 and force the Palestinians to have their own state, and enclave can be carved out of East Jerusalem in the Arab section as the Capital of Palestine, similar to how the Vatican is carved out of Rome.

  • Rabiner

    The issue David should be concerned about is this:

    “the issue is the balance of power between Congress and the executive. The Supreme Court will consider whether Congress can issue such a directive to the executive branch.”

    Congress should not be able to dictate directives to the Executive Branch. But of course you’er more interested in a passport than the balance of power between our branches of government. Very small, very small indeed.

  • baw1064

    Actually, the passport of someone born in Jerusalem could say three different things, depending on whether they were born there before 1948, in the eastern part between 1948 and 1967, or after 1967.

  • nuser

    Canadian ‘harshly beaten’ as Gaza-bound flotilla boarded”

  • mannie

    For most of us, we have lived with the troubles in this region for our whole lives, in a endless river of depressing news. I just wish at some point somebody would put a serious offer on the table to buy the Territores for cash money and full resettlement package from the Palestianinans, and let Israel have the whole thing. To me, any other road leads to either endeess intrasigence or even far worse.

  • jakester

    is there anyone who actually believes there can be some lasting real peace there anymore?

    • Cyberax

      Sure. I have a plan that will achieve instant peace in Israel in milliseconds, unfortunately it involves 50MT hydrogen bombs.

      Other than that, maybe trying to actually integrate Palestine citizens into Israel can achieve lasting peace.

      • jakester

        What if your poor beleaguered Palestinians don’t want to be citizens of Israel, as if they want to run the Jews out and rename it all Palestine?

        • Cyberax

          Who would have imagined it? You mean, after a decade in isolation in ghettos and being bombed from time to time Palestinians don’t like Israel? Unpossible!

          And what a coincidence! Israelis think exactly the same about Palestinians.

          Yes, the united state won’t be easy, but IMO it’s the only way.

      • mlindroo

        Reading this article was a truly depressing experience; It reminds me (once again) that no matter how chastened Frum is by the Bush administration’s numerous failures, he still keeps clinging to the tired irrational foreign policy of the neocons…

        No matter how passionate you are about Jerusalem, the reality is one third of the city’s inhabitants are Muslim. If only 9% of the Old City’s population are Jewish and that part historically has been divided, it seems AWFULLY difficult to accept the claim that only one side should receive the whole of Jerusalem… Sadly, we are used to this kind of fanatical, infantile thinking from the Palestinians. It’s just disappoining that secular, democratic Jews cling to the same fantasy. People such as Frum ought to know better.

        If I was God, I would hurl a 100 meter asteroid at the damn place after giving 10 years of advance notice so that the Jews, Muslims and Christians have ample time to evacuate the area, taking all their supposedly invaluable religious treasures with them. The world would be a better and more peaceful place if nobody was living there.


  • paul_gs

    There is no basis for negotiations at the present time. Israel is best to maintain their protective walls, get on with living their lives, and make sure the Palestinians don’t kidnap any more soldiers.

  • dubmod

    Real journalists report – will we ever see this in our Republican controlled media?

  • valkayec

    Somewhat off topic, WaPo is running a story about the young, new Palestinian activists. It’s well worth reading.