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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

U.S. Policy on Jerusalem

Filed under: Jerusalem, Peace Process

U.S. policy on Jerusalem has gone through different shifts. Back in 1948, the U.S. was originally committed to the failed internationalization proposals in UN General Assembly Resolution 181. This original position was quickly replaced in the 1950s by acceptance of the 1949 armistice agreements.

Following the Six-Day War, UN Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted in November 1967, and did not call for Israel to return to the pre-1967 lines. It called for a withdrawal from territories but not from all the territories, which is what the Soviet Union was insisting upon. Resolution 242 did not mention Jerusalem. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Arthur Goldberg, wrote to the New York Times in 1980 that the Johnson administration kept Jerusalem out of 242 intentionally.

When President Richard Nixon came to the White House in 1969, there was a definite hardening of the U.S. position on the issue of Jerusalem. For the first time, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Charles Yost, described Jerusalem as “occupied territory,” terminology that had not been used by Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, who served under President Johnson. Under Nixon, the United States did not veto or even abstain from resolutions that disagreed with Israeli policy on Jerusalem in 1969, 1970, and 1971.

In successive administrations, we see that the U.S. did not want the issue of Jerusalem addressed by the UN Security Council, and we see a movement of U.S. policy much closer to the Israeli position. No U.S. administration formally recognized Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem in July 1967. Nonetheless, in the past we saw the U.S. and Israel coming to a modus vivendi with respect to Israeli policy in Jerusalem, when Israel built various neighborhoods in the eastern parts of the city.

For example, the Gilo neighborhood in southern Jerusalem, with some 40,000 residents, was founded in 1971 at the time of the Nixon administration. Though Israel had differences with the U.S., those differences did not lead to a crisis in relations between the two countries. In 1973 the Neve Yaakov neighborhood was reestablished. It was originally established in 1924, but was overrun by the Arab Legion in 1948.

The Ramat Eshkol neighborhood was established in 1969 at the very beginning of the Nixon administration. The Ramot neighborhood, established in 1974, has over 40,000 people living there today. In 1980, the Carter administration initially supported a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli West Bank settlement construction as well as construction in eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods. But the administration then clarified that the U.S. ambassador should not have supported the UN condemnation because it specifically included Jerusalem along with the West Bank.

The Oslo Agreements signed in 1993 did not prohibit Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem. For example, the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, which came into the news during a 2010 visit by Vice President Biden, was originally begun in 1995 during the period when President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were in office.

Another neighborhood called Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem, next to Gilo, was established in 1997 during the Clinton administration. Israel had just completed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat over the Hebron agreement.

At that time, the Israeli government informed the Clinton administration that after completing the deal on Hebron, it would be taking some initiatives in Jerusalem that were necessary because of the considerable shortage of housing in both the Jewish sector and even to some extent in the Arab sector.

The Clinton administration was informed when Israel decided to approve the Har Homa project, which the Israeli government saw as compensation for the big initiative it took in signing the Hebron agreement. Now the Clinton administration did not say it welcomed this initiative, but it basically accepted that Israel was going to go ahead and build Har Homa.

On two occasions in 1997, the Arab bloc, together with some other countries, initiated a draft resolution in the UN Security Council that would have condemned Israel for constructing Har Homa. On those two occasions the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, vetoed those resolutions under instructions from the Clinton administration.

Currently, Israel is not building new neighborhoods in Jerusalem, but is only adding housing units to existing Jewish neighborhoods.