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?