The Ownership of the U.S. Embassy Site in Jerusalem

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VOL. 29


No. 4
P. 80
Special Report
The Ownership of the U.S. Embassy Site in Jerusalem

One of the most difficult issues of the final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is Jerusalem. The complexity of this issue has been compounded by U.S. actions to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and by allegations that the prospective site of the embassy is Palestinian refugee property confiscated by Israel since 1948.

Evidence of Palestinian ownership of the 7.7-acre site -- the subject of this report -- was gathered by a group of Palestinians from the records of the United Nations Conciliation Committee on Palestine (UNCCP) in New York, the Public Records Office (PRO) in London, the U.S. State Department (DOS), the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israeli Land Registry Records (Tapu), the Israeli Ministry of Justice, and heirs of the original owner. The research extended over a six-year period and involved some forty individuals. Although hampered by the inaccessibility of the site to surveyors and by Israel's rezoning and reparcellation of the land in question, the evidence yielded by this research shows that at least 70 percent of the site is refugee private property, of which more than a third is Islamic waqf (trust). On 15 May 1948, the last day of the Mandate, the site was owned by seventy-six Palestinians.

On 28 October 1999, the American Committee on Jerusalem (ACJ) addressed a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright outlining the results of this research and requesting a meeting to share the findings with the DOS. It was only on 28 December that the DOS replied to the effect that any data that the group had should be communicated to the DOS "to be dept on file."

Given the grave implications of the embassy issue for the peace process and the credibility of the United States, the ACJ felt as a result of the correspondence that it had no alternative but to go public. 

Walid Khalidi, a founder of the Institute for Palestine Studies and its general secretary, is a former professor at Oxford University, the American University of Beirut, and Harvard University. He is particularly indebted for the results of this research to the contributions of Issam and Hasib Nashashibi; Nur Masalha; Usama Halabi; Nadim Majaj; Rashid, Kamil, and Daud Khalidi; Shukri, Nabil, and Aysha Dajani; Philip Mattar; and Michael Fischbach. Other contributors are acknowledged in the footnotes. This text has gained in clarity and coherence from the editorial skills of Linda Butler.