Biden goes on with plan to build US embassy on stolen Palestinian land
Objections from Palestinians, the land’s rightful owners, and US citizens, are going unacknowledged by the administration.
Almost five years after former President Donald Trump broke with decades of US policy and international consensus to move the US Embassy to the occupied city of Al-Quds, the Biden administration is proceeding with plans to build a permanent embassy compound in the city.
In the past few weeks, the US administration has quietly advanced plans for a new embassy, which would consolidate Trump’s policy reversal and violate US precedent on the status of Al-Quds and on "Israel’s" ongoing illegal appropriation of Palestinian land. The new embassy would make the US government, too, an active participant in that property confiscation: The diplomatic compound is to be built on land illegally expropriated from Palestinians, whose descendants, including several US citizens (US-Palestinian), still have a claim to.
“The descendants of the landowners are all entitled to these properties under international law,” Suhad Bishara, legal director of human rights group Adalah, told The Intercept. “By moving forward with the plan to build the embassy at the Allenby site, the U.S. is taking an active part in the illegal confiscation of these properties, including infringing on their own citizens’ rights.”
According to plans submitted by the US State Department to Israeli authorities, the planned compound would be built on a plot known as the “Allenby Barracks." The land is now registered to "Israel" and leased to the US after it was confiscated from Palestinian refugees under "Israel’s" 1950 Absentees’ Property Law. The law is widely condemned for having enabled "Israel" to claim ownership over the land of countless Palestinians it forcibly displaced and prohibited from returning.
“This land was illegally confiscated,” Bishara said, adding that the said laws were “racially designed to confiscate Palestinian property for the benefit of Israel and its Judaization processes in the area.”
“The United States has not yet made a decision on which site to pursue. A number of factors, including the history of the sites, will be part of our site selection process,” Rachel Rubin, a spokesperson for the State Department, said in a statement sent to The Intercept after this article was published.
Rubin confirmed that the Biden administration would uphold Trump’s embassy move: “The U.S. position is that our embassy will remain in Jerusalem, which we recognize as Israel’s capital.”
Last month, planning authorities in "Israel" publicized a detailed proposal the US State Department presented in 2021, including 3-D renderings of the future embassy’s compound. The announcement gives the families of the original landowners and the public until early January to formally file objections.
Palestinians, the rightful owners of that land, have been raising their well-documented proof that the land is theirs, at least since US plans for the plot were first floated, and then abandoned in the 1990s. The US government has been aware of the documents presented at least since then. Earlier this year, researchers at Adalah uncovered additional archived documents, including deeds that remove any doubt about Palestinians being the rightful owners of the land.
Rashid Khalidi, a renowned historian, and a Columbia University professor is one of the Americans who say the land, where the US Embassy is to be built, is theirs. His family is one of several others that called on the US government to cancel the plans and asked for a meeting with US Ambassador to "Israel" Tom Nides and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken; however, they have received no response.
“This is a country which supposedly considers private property sacred,” Khalidi told The Intercept. “Why is the private property of Palestinian Americans — Americans who happen to be Palestinian — something that the U.S. government feels it can allow a foreign government to take and then lease that land from that foreign government?”
“They have done this quietly. They’ve not trumpeted it,” he added. “But ordinary Americans should have a chance to decide: Do we want our government to take property stolen from U.S. citizens for a U.S. Embassy?”
An American Plan
According to official Israeli transcripts, US officials have told Israeli planning authorities that they intend to develop both plots.
Significant investment has been made by the US government in the plans for the disputed site. Last year, during a Zoom presentation before Israeli officials, including the mayor of occupied Al-Quds, four State Department representatives pitched their plan for the new embassy. The presentation attendees made no reference to the land’s status but only described the "boost to commerce that the new compound would bring to the area."
James Kania, a US foreign service officer, filed with Israeli authorities the official planning documents for the compound.
While the US officials issued vague statements on the matter, the plans and transcripts recently made public by Israeli authorities obviously show that the State Department is not only proceeding with the new embassy but is also actively lobbying for "Israel’s" sign-off, ignoring the repeated objections by the land’s rightful owners.
“They’re trying to do this on the down-low,” said Khalidi. “They pretend that they’re not involved. In fact, the planning documents are prepared by the U.S. government. One of them has the U.S. Embassy in Israel logo on it. It’s a fiction. This is a U.S. government effort — together with the Israeli planning authorities, of course.”
Some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled or forced to flee, becoming refugees, since the occupation of Palestine in 1948. "Israel" has for decades confiscated Palestinians' lands and refused their return, even as it continues to illegally expand and build settlements in Palestinian territories it has recently occupied.
The United Nations has condemned "Israel’s" expropriation of Palestinian territories as a violation of refugee and property rights.
The US has effectively done nothing to stop the expropriation of the lands or the building of the new illegal settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Eastern part of occupied Al-Quds. According to critics, building a US Embassy on stolen Palestinian land would deal yet another blow to the already lagging US legitimacy in the region.
Until Trump, the US, with many other countries, has maintained that the status of Al-Quds should be decided in agreement with UN resolutions and through negotiations, rejecting "Israel’s" unilateral declarations of sovereignty over the city. Trump broke with decades of US precedent by recognizing "Israel’s" annexation of Al-Quds and of the Syrian Golan Heights. As for the Biden administration, it has remained absolutely quiet on Trump’s moves.
“They have not said, ‘The United States continues to fully recognize the annexation of the Golan Heights, the United States continues to fully recognize the annexation of Jerusalem,’ as announced by the Trump administration, but in practice, they haven’t dissented from those policies,” said Khalidi. “The question is, is this going to be made permanent by this administration’s policy?”