Now that President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, what will the State Department do? It resents Israel and has been fighting the Jewish state for years. Is it ready to comply?
Don’t bet on it. That’s my advice.
Foggy Bottom is the worst swamp in Washington, haunted by the ghost of Loy Henderson, the diplomat who tried to defeat the very idea of Israel.
He lost decisively 70 years ago, when the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, clearing the way for a Jewish state. And, in May 1948, when President Harry Truman recognized Israel 11 minutes after it declared independence. He overruled the vociferous objections of the State Department.
State has dragged its heels ever since. It has sought at every turn not only to stymie Israel but to block any recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.
Now the question to watch will be the case of a 15-year-old American boy named Menachem Zivotofsky, who was born in Jerusalem in 2002.
Congress wanted him — and all Americans born in Jerusalem — to have the right to have their passport say they were born in Israel. (Now it only says “Jerusalem.”) It passed a law saying so. The Senate was unanimous.
Yet Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama refused to comply. State Secretaries Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were in the Senate that passed the law without objection. Even so, they fought Israel in court.
Mr. Zivotofsky went to the Supreme Court twice in an effort to get a properly worded passport. In the end, he lost, when the justices ruled that Congress couldn’t force the president’s hand on matters of foreign-sovereignty recognition.
It’s not that the president himself couldn’t give the lad the passport Congress wanted him to have. It’s just that the matter was, under the Constitution, entirely up to the president.
Enter Donald Trump. Finally we have a president prepared to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And possibly even to begin moving the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
His proclamation immediately raised the question of whether our consular offices, which handle passports, would follow suit. Mr. Zivotofsky’s lawyer thinks this should happen “automatically.”
The scrappy scribes who cover State sprang into action. On December 7, David Satterfield, acting assistant secretary for the Near East, fetched up in the press room and Matt Lee of the Associated Press posed the first question.
“What is the capital of Israel?” he asked.
“The president,” Mr. Satterfield said, “announced yesterday, issued a proclamation declaring the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.”
“So,” said Matt Lee, “the answer to the question is Jerusalem — correct?”
“That’s exactly right,” said Mr. Satterfield.
“What country is Jerusalem in?” Mr. Lee asked. (He’s no dummy.)
Mr. Satterfield paused just a bit. “The president recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel,” he dodged, showing an ever-so-slight smile.
“Does that mean then that the U.S. government officially recognizes that the Jerusalem municipality lies within the state of Israel?” Mr. Lee followed up.
That’s when Mr. Satterfield announced that “there has been no change in our policy with respect to consular practice or passport issuance.”
In other words, young Mr. Zivotofsky can take a hike. Mr. Trump may be president, Congress may be nearly unanimous, the Supreme Court may have cleared the decks for the president.
None of it penetrates Foggy Bottom. Matt Lee kept at it (the AP ought to give him a raise). Other reporters pitched in. It was like mining bitcoin. Lot of work, nothing solid.
Nathan Lewin, Mr. Zivotofsky’s lawyer, calls in the latest Jewish Press for the passport regulations regarding Jerusalem to be withdrawn. He hints at another lawsuit.
Yet there could be an easier option, if President Trump wants Mr. Zivotofsky to have an American passport saying he was born in Israel: Trump could write it out himself by hand.
Mr. Trump — or an aide — could do this with a blank piece of paper and a pen. The President could invite young Zivotofsky to the White House for the ceremony.
He could invite Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and do it in the State Dining Room. But the more I think about it, there’s a better and bipartisan place — the Truman balcony.
This column first appeared in the New York Post.