In a late Thursday night vote, 97 US senators voted to make Jerusalem the permanent home of the US embassy in Israel. Meanwhile, the facility was already planning a vast $600 million expansion project.
The only lawmakers to dissent on the issue were Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Tom Carper (D-DE). The measure was added to the larger $1.9 trillion budget bill that is also the vehicle for US President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief package.
In February 2020, during the Democratic Presidential Primary race, Sanders said that if elected president, he would consider returning the embassy to Tel Aviv, as Jerusalem is not held to be legal Israeli territory by the United Nations.
“Sadly, tragically, in Israel, through [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country,” Sanders said at the time. “I happen to believe that what our foreign policy in the Mideast should be about is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel. But you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people.”
However, Warren has never directly spoken in favor of moving the embassy, saying only that “We should let the parties determine the capitals themselves.”
Former US President Donald Trump announced the move in 2018 after recognizing Israel’s long-standing claim that Jerusalem is its capital. Israel captured the city in the 1967 war with Jordan, when it also seized the West Bank, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. However, the United Nations has repeatedly condemned the move, saying the annexation of Jerusalem and occupation of other territories are illegal under international law.
Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Much of the city's Arab population was driven out after the Israeli conquest thanks to neighborhood demolitions, restrictive laws, and police harassment.
The decision to recognize Jerusalem and move the embassy helped spark a new wave of Palestinian resistance, including the Great March of Return, a prolonged struggle at the Israel-Gaza border by refugees demanding to be allowed to return to lands from which they had been ousted by Israeli settlers that lasted nearly 18 months.
Meanwhile, plans for a vast $600 million construction project to build two new facilities for the US embassy are moving forward. The city has recently granted two permits for new buildings, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The US delegation presently operates out of the old consulate building, but the new facilities are larger; one will be the embassy building itself, while the other will contain housing for staff and recreational facilities, and possibly a new official residence for the US ambassador.