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U.S. Policy on Jerusalem: Memorandum Discouraging Nations From Recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel

(May 31, 1962)

This memorandum relates to the UN General Assembly's call for the internationalization of Jerusalem.

Memorandum From the Department of State Executive Secretary (Battle) to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, May 31, 1962.

United States Position on Jerusalem

By telephone call to Assistant Secretary Talbot May 21, Mr. Feldman asked why, when other Governments contemplate the establishment of a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, we review with them the United States position on non-recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

A resolution of the United Nations General Assembly adopted November 29, 1947, provided for the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state and the creation of a corpus separatum, under direct international administration, of the City of Jerusalem and its environs. This resolution could not be carried out since hostilities broke out in May 1948 between Arab states and Israel. The hostilities were terminated by a series of armistice agreements in 1949. The armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan of April 3, 1949, established armistice demarcation lines which divided Jerusalem into sectors under Israel and Jordan control with a no-man's-land between the two sectors. The United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1949, reaffirmed its recommendation that a corpus separatum be established, and requested the Trusteeship Council to proceed with formulating a Statute for a Corpus Separatum for Jerusalem. The United States and certain other interested powers did not support this resolution, which was, nevertheless, passed by the Assembly. It was the belief of this Government that events had made efforts at carrying out the terms of such a resolution unrealistic, inasmuch as the two countries in actual occupation of Jerusalem were strongly opposed to the creation of a corpus separatum. The Trusteeship Council failed to produce an acceptable draft statute as did the United Nations General Assembly that same year (1950). The United States undertook, however, to give due recognition to the formal acts of the General Assembly and the Trusteeship Council relating to Jerusalem and has since maintained its position that the Holy Places in the Jerusalem area are of international interest to a degree which transcends ordinary considerations of sovereignty.

Despite the passage of the 1949 United Nations General Assembly resolution, the Israel Government officially transferred the Israel capital to Jerusalem. Israel Ministers began moving to the city, but the Foreign Ministry remained in Tel Aviv for a period. On May 4, 1952, the Israel Government announced that it was transferring the Foreign Office to Jerusalem. The actual transfer took place as of July 12, 1953. On July 9, 1952, the Embassy at Tel Aviv handed an aide-mémoire to the Israel Government (enclosed)/2/ stating that the United States Government did not view favorably the transfer of the Israel Foreign Office to Jerusalem, and that there was no intention of transferring the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Our position, as frequently stated, is: "the status of Jerusalem is a matter of United Nations concern and no member of the United Nations should take any action to prejudice the United Nations interest in this question. Our objective has been to keep the Jerusalem question an open one and to prevent its being settled solely through the processes of attrition and fait accompli to the exclusion of international interest and an eventual final expression thereof presumably through the United Nations."

As a consequence of this policy, when the Department learns that a government for the first time is contemplating the establishment of a diplomatic mission in Israel, we inform that government of the historical background of United Nations attitudes toward Jerusalem and express the hope that, in deference to United Nations attitudes, its mission will be established in Tel Aviv, where most other missions are located. (This approach is almost invariable, although we would not undertake it in the case of a government hostile to the United States because our effort might be self-defeating.) We are at pains to inform the government that the decision is one for it to make. If, despite our friendly counsels, the government desires to establish its mission in Jerusalem the United States Government makes no further effort to dissuade it. The view of our major allies on the Jerusalem problem is generally similar to our own. They also have on occasion made representations to other states regarding the establishment of diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.

The Department's files show that since Israel's transfer of its capital to Jerusalem we have made approaches along the foregoing lines to the following countries:

Country Year Present Location of Mission
Japan 1955 mission in Tel Aviv
Guatemala 1955 mission in Jerusalem
Cuba 1957 mission in Tel Aviv
Liberia 1958 mission in Tel Aviv
Haiti 1958 no resident diplomatic representation
Venezuela 1959 mission in Jerusalem
Ecuador 1960 mission not yet established
Ivory Coast 1961 mission in Jerusalem
Ethiopia 1961 mission not yet established
Philippines 1962 mission not yet established
Costa Rica 1962 mission not yet established (but announced as Jerusalem)
Gabon 1962 mission in Jerusalem

As of March 1962, of the 41 nations maintaining diplomatic missions in Israel, eleven were located in Jerusalem, four of these, however, sharing one resident Ambassador./3/ This group includes six African and three Latin American states. The two others are Greece and the Netherlands, both of which are regarded as respecting the status of Jerusalem since these governments designated their consular representatives to mandated Jerusalem as diplomatic representatives to the newly created State of Israel, leaving their consular residences in the original location.

The United States practice (of informing states which may be considering the establishment of a diplomatic mission in Israel of the background of United Nations interest) is known to Israel. The latter has occasionally taken issue with the practice, most recently in January of this year./4/ We have invariably replied that the United States feels it has a moral obligation in this issue; that the United Nations interest is a legitimate one; on this premise we make our views known to interested governments; however, each government must decide its position for itself.

C.K. Johnson/5/

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/5-3162. Confidential. Drafted by Crawford on May 25 and cleared by Talbot, Wallner (IO), and Palmer (IO/UNP).

/2/For text, see Foreign Relations, 1952-1954, vol. IX, Part 1, p. 961.

/3/A footnote in the source text lists Central Africa, Gabon, Greece, Netherlands, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Uruguay. Dahomey, Ivory Coast, Niger, and Upper Volta were listed as four "Conseil d'Entente" nations represented by a single Ambassador.

/4/See Document 167. Harman also raised the matter with Rusk during their meeting on May 28. The memorandum of conversation is in Department of State, Central Files, 684A.00/5-2862.

/5/Johnson signed for Brubeck above Brubeck's typed signature.

Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.