At first glance, Jerusalem appears to be the quintessential capital city: The sprawling, modern metropolis is home to Israel'sparliament, the Knesset, and courts, ministry buildings, monuments and museums dot the surrounding area. Lining the main streets are alternating Israeli and Jerusalem flags — all symbols of Israel's proud ownership of the city.
Yet unlike most other countries in the world, embassies in Israel are not located in the capital. Instead, foreign delegations from around the globe are housed some 50 kilometers away in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, save for two embassies in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevaseret Zion.
In a show of unprecedented defiance, not one country has recognized Israel's rule over Jerusalem, even over the undisputed western part of the city. In fact, the few consulates in the city — in the western and eastern sections — report to the Palestinian Authority.
The hypocrisy shown by the U.S. in recognizing other, disputed foreign capitals is particularly disheartening. In the past two decades, Kazakhstan and Myanmar have moved their capitals cities, while several new countries, like Palau and South Sudan, have come into existence. In none of these cases did the U.S. oppose the countries' choice of capital, even when dealing with despotic regimes.
The lack of legitimacy granted to Israel's rule over Jerusalem has long been a point of contention between the Jewish state and the international community. The United States, Israel's closest ally, has persistently avoided the issue since Israel officially declared Jerusalem its "complete and united capital" in 1980.
In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama declared, "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." His statement echoed that of Bill Clinton in 1992, when he backed "the principle of moving our embassy to Jerusalem," andGeorge W. Bush in 2000, who promised to "begin the process of moving the U.S. ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital."
Yet nothing has changed.
In fact, since Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 to initiate the relocation of the mission in Tel Aviv, subsequent presidents have issued waivers every six months to delay the move on the basis of "national security interests."
During his recent trip abroad, presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney warmly declared, "It's a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel." Continuing in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, however, Mr. Romney repeated the same promise, saying, "the policy of [the United States] has been a desire to move our embassy ultimately to the capital. That is something which I would agree with."
If historical precedent is any indication, the chance is slim that American policy toward Jerusalem would change under a Romney administration. With this in mind, it is time to reexamine the reasons for continuing this charade.
Supporters of the current policy argue that the eastern portion of Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following the 1967 Six-Day War, is a disputed territory under international law and that any change to the status quo must come through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. They fear that any unilateral action taken by the U.S. would damage its role as a mediator.
Others believe the original United Nations' recommendation that Jerusalem be placed under a special international regime, a corpus separatum, still applies. Still others are afraid of inflaming the greater Arab world, which supports the creation of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.
In the international arena, U.S. refusal to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel's capital has helped contribute to a global delegitimization campaign against the Jewish state. Enemies of Israel and the U.S. have attempted to deny Israel's connection to Jerusalem, thereby discrediting her very existence and undermining decades of American foreign policy. Vocal support for Israel is not enough; the U.S. needs to act with meaning if it is to take a stand against shared enemies like Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.
If Ron Huldai, the mayor of Tel Aviv, openly admits, "We are not Israel's capital," it is time for the United States to acknowledge the same and correct its historic injustice. It is long overdue for the American flag to fly proudly alongside the Israeli flags that pepper the city of Jerusalem. This is one of the few issues upon which Democrats and Republicans, Labor and Likud, left-wing and right-wing can agree. It is time for the United States to move its embassy. It is time to acknowledge once and for all that Jerusalem is, in fact, the eternal capital of the State of Israel.
Robert Pines, a Gaithersburg native, is a senior at American University and Leaders Outreach Media Fellow at The Israel Project in Washington. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.