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Jerusalem The Capital

January 16, 2018

Jerusalem The Capital

In early December 2017, United States President Donald Trump announced that Washington would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and initiate the process of relocating the American Embassy from Tel Aviv, pursuant to the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.

The western section of Jerusalem lies in territory internationally recognized as Israeli since 1949. The Israeli government had made the city its capital in 1948. Meanwhile the eastern neighborhoods were occupied by Jordan until 1967, and then by Israel thereafter. Israel officially annexed these areas in 1980, a move that was condemned at the time by the United Nations Security Council.

The United States, like all countries except Israel, has never considered any part of Jerusalem, east or west, to be Israel’s capital. This position reflected the original UN partition plan for Palestine, Resolution 181, which envisioned Jerusalem as a corpus separatum under international jurisdiction. Although the resolution’s relevance was largely voided by Arab rejection of the partition and the subsequent Arab-Israeli conflict, the U.S. and other governments have awaited a final status agreement between Israel and its neighbors, in recent decades primarily the Palestinians, before officially changing policy on Jerusalem. According to this line of reason, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or the establishment of embassies there would pre-judge the city’s future status following a comprehensive agreement. President Trump has argued that a change in American approach on Jerusalem does not necessarily predetermine the outcome of peace talks, fielding this talking point during his December announcement of the new policy and embassy move.

Notably, Jerusalem was deemed a final status issue subject to later negotiations under the interim Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s. Palestinians claim Jerusalem, particularly the eastern section, as the capital of a prospective state of Palestine although the Palestinian Authority operates de facto from Ramallah.

In 1995, the United States Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which called for the American Embassy to be relocated from its location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 1999, with cuts to the State Department budget if such action was not executed. However, the legislation allowed for the president to waive the act for national security reasons every six months. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all waived the act throughout their respective terms, and President Trump waived it once before December’s announcement. Despite instructing the State Department to begin preparations on relocating the embassy, President Trump again signed a waiver in early December, formally delaying the move another six months.

The Trump Administration’s decision on Jerusalem has generated significant controversy abroad. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah both opposed the move when the president alerted them in advance of his early December declaration. Some European powers, notably Germany, have signaled that they will not align with the new American policy. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with other government officials, as well as some politicians from across the spectrum, including opposition lawmakers, celebrated President Trump’s decision. Israeli security forces have clashed with Palestinians in the occupied territories over demonstrations following the declaration, while the radical Islamic extremist group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and is active in the West Bank, called for a third intifada against Israel.

The process of actually moving the American embassy could take as long as five-to-ten years.

Evan Gottesman for iStrategic

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