Jerusalem is still just “Jerusalem” as far as your passport is concerned

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in the case of Zivotofsky v. Kerry (remember?) that Congress is not within its prerogative to order the executive branch to recognize Jerusalem as “Jerusalem, Israel” on the passports of US citizens who are born there. Official US policy is and has been since 1948 that Jerusalem is an “international” city, so if you happen to be born there your birthplace will be officially listed on your passport as just “Jerusalem.” Congress passed a law in 2002 requiring the government to list it as “Jerusalem, Israel” instead, but the State Department has always (even under Bush) held that the law was an unconstitutional infringement on the executive’s right to conduct foreign policy. While Congress does have authority over the passport process, the court ruled, accurately in my view, that overruling the executive on a question like this would have de facto opened the door to Congress setting its own policies with respect to recognizing nations and dealing with international territorial disputes, when these are clear responsibilities of the executive, not the legislature. Imagine Congress suddenly deciding to recognize the Donbas as a separate nation, contrary to administration’s policies and you can see why this would be untenable.

14 thoughts on “Jerusalem is still just “Jerusalem” as far as your passport is concerned

  1. I can understand how recognition of a foreign state through the passport could lead to conflicts between the executive and legislative branches, as this case has shown–but how is that such a point of contention with a state the U. S. recognizes anyway, and with a city known to NOT be a political entity unto itself apart from the country around it? If the U. S. didn’t recognize the Vatican and that was one’s birthplace, I could see the argument, or, say, Havana anytime before diplomacy resumed with Cuba (somewhat). How does it matter with Jerusalem specifically? Is there some Israeli lobby or geopolitical factor the news isn’t really discussing? Or is this just a test case for any such future development?

    1. But Vatican City is a country, nobody disputes that. Plenty of people dispute the status of Jerusalem, which is an international city according to US law and multiple UN resolutions. Israel’s occupation of west Jerusalem was dicey under international law, and its seizure of east Jerusalem in 1967 was as unlawful as its seizures of the West Bank and Gaza. There are currently exactly zero international embassies in Jerusalem despite Israel’s insistence that Jerusalem is its capital, because nobody apart from the Israelis recognizes Israel’s claim on the city as lawful.

      Of course there’s a geopolitical factor at play here, since Jerusalem is easily the highest-profile case of disputed territory in the world. Apart from setting a bad precedent, forcing the executive branch to recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel would undercut any hope that the US has that it can still be an arbiter in the peace process.

      1. That follows, but if no one else recognizes the city Jerusalem as the capitol, how is it the U. N. has refused to step in and resolve the question in 50 years? It doesn’t matter enough to address the problem, so why would it matter for U. S. policy if not to avoid angering other Middle Eastern states?

      2. Are you seriously asking why the UN hasn’t just stepped in and solved the Israel-Palestine issue?

      3. Actually I am not. How difficult is it to get official consensus as to who is in possession of a city? If the U. N. can’t even do that, it is worthless. If you think it isn’t capable, you either acknowledge that fact or you have a bigger issue.

      4. What official consensus? The UN has no mandate to go around declaring what cities belong where. This is particularly true in the case of Jerusalem, whose status cannot and will not be settled until there is a broader settlement of the Israel-Palestine issue, which may never actually happen. Do you not get that there’s a much larger and more intractable conflict here than just slapping a word into somebody’s passport?

      5. And yet comparatively minor issues can’t be dealt with at all until the larger ones are settled, which hasn’t happened since the U. N. carved out a new country from the environ 60 years ago. Sounds like the realpolitik is getting in the way of actual progress to me. Do you get that?

      6. The status of Jerusalem has enormous symbolic importance to both sides of the conflict. There’s nothing “minor” about it.

      7. A word on a passport is minor. If it is more than this simple and limited point of legality, there are larger issues not being fixed. What good is an international council of nations if it can’t do something peaceable and effective about that?

      8. Beats me. You should put your name out there as a candidate to be the next Secretary-General.

  2. Excuse me for not starting with assumptions. It could always be a simple matter at its core. I would not advise presuming there is more, before asking others who may or may not be able to give a full perspective. There’s nothing oblivious or dishonest about that.

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