The new passport change is a serious pivot from established US policy. Since 1948, the US has only listed “Jerusalem” as the place of birth for US citizens born in the divided city, thus refusing to recognise any country’s sovereignty over it.
The changes have triggered harsh condemnation from senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi, who labelled it as an “attempt to erase Palestinians”. In a statement delivered on Friday, she said, “The US State Department’s new decision to allow the labelling of Jerusalem as part of Israel in official US documents is a falsification of the city’s history and identity.”
A spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the US passport policy change was a violation of international law, noting that efforts by Trump “to impose facts on the ground in a race against time ahead of the US election will not alter that reality.”
The move further cements Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the entire city which broke with decades of US policy and was met with outrage across the Arab world.
The changes, enacted days before the US election, appeared to be aimed at bolstering the support of evangelical Christians and other Israel backers.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman presented the first passport with the amendments to 18-year-old Menachem Zivitofsky during a ceremony at the US Embassy on Friday 30 October.
“I’m humbled and honoured to receive this passport,” said Zivitofsky. During the ceremony, Friedman told Zivitofsky, “Today, you have a nation of birth, the state of Israel.”
Zivotofsky’s parents first filed a lawsuit for the right to list his birthplace as Israel in 2003, when he was an infant. But the US Supreme Court struck down a law that would have made that possible in 2015.
The status of Jerusalem, which contains sites holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians, is among the most contentious issues in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Israel captured and occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, officially annexing Jerusalem in 1980. Israel considers the entire city of Jerusalem its “unified, eternal” capital, whilst Palestinians claim the occupied East as the capital of a hoped-for state.
The United Nations does not recognise Israel’s annexation nor does most of the international community, which instead list Jerusalem as “undefined” on official documents.