Former President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem was met with widespread international condemnation. Yet, despite rejecting Trump’s extremist politics, President Joe Biden is pushing forward with the embassy move and constructing a compound atop stolen Palestinian land.
This month, human rights groups called on Biden’s administration to end plans to build the U.S. Jerusalem Embassy on private Palestinian property. Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Center for Constitutional Rights sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides. The organizations argued that continuing with Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem violates international law, specifically given Jerusalem’s special status as a city whose sovereignty is undetermined. The letter was written on behalf of several Palestinian families who would have inherited the land where the U.S. Embassy would be constructed if Israel had not illegally confiscated it.
According to records found in the Israeli State Archives and published by Adalah in July, the land in question was owned by Palestinian families and leased to British Mandate authorities before Israel’s establishment in 1948.
Israel seized the land using its 1950 Absentees’ Property Law, which stipulates that property abandoned — even due to expulsion — during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War now belongs to Israel. This legislation is one of Israel’s primary tools in stripping land from Palestinian refugees, including being used in infamous cases such as ongoing dispossession efforts in Sheikh Jarrah.
“The U.S. Embassy plan to build on this land will also violate the private property rights of Palestinian landowners and the internationally established right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and gain restitution of their properties,” the letter states.
The organizations have not received a response to their November 10 letter.
“The Biden Administration is committed to keeping the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem,” the State Department said in a statement to MintPress News. “The United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jerusalem itself is a final status issue to be resolved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The State Department said they are considering two sites for the embassy complex — one being the area belonging to Palestinians —but haven’t settled on a final location.
“Construction, location, and a range of other factors, including the history of the sites, will be part of the ultimate site selection,” the State Department said.
Earlier this month, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee published its plan for the U.S. diplomatic compound, which can receive public objections until January 7. Adalah’s legal director, Adv. Suhad Bishara told MintPress News that Adalah plans to file an objection to the master plan.
“We are talking about confiscations based on an Israeli, racially-motivated law that’s against international law and international obligations,” Bishara said, referring to Israel’s absentees’ property law.
Erasing Palestinian history from Jerusalem
The lease agreements found in Israeli State Archives detail the names of several Palestinian landowners, including the El Khalidi family, whose descendants include Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi.
“The fact that the U.S. government is now participating actively with the Israeli government in this project means that it is actively infringing on the property rights of the legitimate owners of these properties, including many U.S. citizens,” Khalidi said in an Adalah press release.
The descendants are demanding the Biden Administration and the Israeli government immediately cancel this plan. Ali Qleibo, one of the heirs living in Jerusalem, described U.S. attempts to build an embassy on his family’s land as outrageous. “It legitimizes the Israeli occupation on the one hand, and it breaks international laws regarding Jerusalem,” Qleibo told MintPress News.
Qleibo’s lineage goes back at least 2,000 years in Palestine. His ancestors came from wealth and were scholars, theologians, and custodians of what is today the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Part of the location for the new U.S. Embassy was once Qleibo’s family’s summer manor. The family’s property was placed into an endowment along with other notable Palestinian families.
“The endowment and the beneficiaries form a network of relation that objectifies the social structure and hierarchy of Jerusalem and establishes the aristocratic families in the city and their long historical background,” Qleibo explained, identifying this investment as a cornerstone of Jerusalemite history.
“This particular property is the social registry for the Jerusalem elite,” Qleibo said. “And by removing it, you remove the connections.”
Trump-era policies live on through Biden
Trump’s landmark decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2017 radically reversed decades of American foreign policy. Less than six months later, in 2018, an interim embassy compound was opened in Jerusalem. Despite Biden expressing commitments to Palestinian statehood, he has continued with Trump’s controversial Middle East policy.
Bishara described the Biden administration’s dedication to a two-state solution while building a Jerusalem embassy as contradictory. “Israel’s position is very clear in this regard, that Jerusalem, as what they call the United East and West, is the capital of the state of Israel. This [embassy] plan backs even indirectly such statements and laws enacted by the Israeli parliament in clear violation of international law,” Bishara said; “The plan backs and strengthens the illegal position of Israel concerning Jerusalem because they see it as one united city with no rights for the Palestinians whatsoever.”
From Qleibo’s perspective, Biden’s decision to keep with Trump’s expansionist policy originates out of fear. “The U.S.A. has decided that they will favor Israel, that they will support them, and that they will not say no. And in the present context, it has become any action that’s anti-Israeli policy is constituted as anti-Semitic,” Qleibo said. “They just comply and are complacent, and they try to appease the Israelis in any way for fear lest they should be called anti-Semitic.”
And according to Qleibo, that pervasive fear of anti-Semitism dictating U.S. politics is part of what’s preventing Palestinians from obtaining their rights. “The American policy now is shaped by a group of people caught up in a series of beneficial mutual relations,” Qleibo said. “And the concept of justice for the Palestinians does not exist in this formula.”
Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News
Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.