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Dhaka Tribune

US foreign policy concerns loom large in Jerusalem passport case

Update : 02 Nov 2014, 08:28 PM

The United States is facing an unconventional challenge as it seeks to project credibility as a neutral peacemaker between the Israelis and Palestinians: a case before the Supreme Court involving a 12-year-old boy.

On Monday, the nine justices will consider whether the administration of President Barack Obama must follow a law enacted by Congress that allows US citizens born in Jerusalem to have Israel listed as their birthplace on passports.

What appears to be a dry legal question is a foreign policy minefield for the US government, which has refused to enforce the law ever since it was enacted in 2002. The concern for the United States is that the law could be interpreted as an endorsement of Israel’s hotly disputed sovereignty claim over Jerusalem, a holy city for Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

The case was instigated by the parents of Jerusalem-born US citizen Menachem Zivotofsky because they want his passport to state that he was born in Israel. Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky sued on behalf of their then-baby son in 2003.

The legal fight has bounced around the US court system for a decade, an odyssey that included a previous trip to the Supreme Court that led to a ruling in 2012 on a more technical procedural issue.

The legal question is whether the law is unconstitutional because it infringes on the president’s exclusive right on whether to recognize a foreign nation and under what terms.

The most recent US-brokered peace talks with Israelis and Palestinians broke down in April. Tensions are even higher than usual in Jerusalem after Israel on Thursday briefly closed access to a Muslim holy site, the Al Aqsa mosque, following the wounding of a far-right Jewish religious activist.

Negotiations over the status of Jerusalem have long been seen as key to any potential peace settlement. The United States has been neutral on the question ever since Israel was founded in 1948. 

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