The Case for Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital
by David R. Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman
Jerusalem has entered a new season following the decision by U.S. President Donald J. Trump to officially recognize the city as the capital of Israel and to move the American Embassy there. This is a time for renewed optimism among those who truly care about the openness, peace and well-being of Jerusalem, as other nations must now consider whether to follow the lead of the United States in finally giving the city the universal respect it so richly deserves. The merits for doing so are clear and convincing.
The U.S. Shift in Policy
On 6 December 2017, President Trump granted de jure recognition to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced that the U.S. intends to move its Embassy there. He explained that this decision left open for negotiations the final borders of the city, and was simply a common sense recognition of the reality that Jerusalem has served as the de facto capital of Israel for seventy years now and will remain so even in any final peace deal with the Palestinians. He also stated that this shift in policy was grounded in four decades of overwhelming bipartisan support for such a move in the U.S. Congress, including its landslide passage of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. It also was in keeping with the campaign promises of the three preceding American presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. H. Bush and Barack Obama), which they had each left unfulfilled.
This historic and courageous decision has begun the process of finally righting an historic injustice by the international community, in that Israel is the only country in the world denied the sovereign right of every nation to designate the city of its choice to serve as its capital and seat of government. How this discriminatory treatment of Israel arose bears careful review.
An Unjust Anomaly
In 1950, the newly-reborn nation of Israel declared Jerusalem to be its capital and placed its primary institutions of national government in the city, including the parliament (Knesset), the President and Prime Minister, other cabinet-level ministries, and the Supreme Court. This occurred despite the fact that Jewish western Jerusalem was still precariously surrounded at the time by hostile Arab forces. This decision to establish Jerusalem as the capital of the revived Jewish state reflected the deep spiritual, historic and cultural significance which the Jewish people attach to the city.
Over the ensuing seven decades, the international community has generally extended de facto recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in that nearly all visiting heads-of-state, and other foreign officials and envoys, have all come up to Jerusalem to conduct the affairs of state with their Israeli counterparts. This includes even Arab leaders, such as Anwar Sadat, who made his historic peace mission to Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv. Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas also have held peace talks and other official meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, and even attended the state funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres on Mt. Herzl.
However, much of the international community has refused to extend de jure recognition to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and thus have placed their embassies and consulates instead in the greater Tel Aviv area. While some two dozen nations did have embassies in Jerusalem at some point in time, they were all eventually forced to leave under threats of violence and oil embargoes. Thus, a gross anomaly has resulted in that Israel is the only country in the world denied the sovereign right of every nation to determine its own capital.
The origins of this unjust policy can be found in the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, which recommended a division of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, but with Jerusalem and its environs set aside as a corpus separatum under international supervision. This UN decision to “internationalize” the city reflected the religious prejudices of many Christian and Muslim world leaders at the time who had trouble accepting Jewish control over the holy sites of their respective faiths in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Even so, it is often overlooked that the UN Partition Plan expressly provided for a city-wide referendum within ten years which would have enabled the local residents to decide the fate of the city. Thus, the “internationalization” of Jerusalem was merely intended as a temporary measure, and the Jewish majority in the city would have soon ensured that it become part of Israel. Further, the overall UN Partition Plan was not a binding international decision, but rather a proposed course of action for resolving the brewing conflict over the land as the British Mandate expired.
Nonetheless, when U.S. President Harry Truman officially recognized the State of Israel in 1948, he also embraced the concept of internationalization for Jerusalem, setting a course for U.S. policy on the city over coming decades which eventually drifted into folly. Meanwhile, many in the European Union still push for internationalizing Jerusalem, even though it is now a completely defunct idea rejected by the core parties to the dispute over the city.
The Pretext of Neutrality
After Israel reunified the city during the June 1967 conflict, there has been a continuing effort to deny Israel and the Jewish people their rightful place in Jerusalem under other pretexts. In particular, the international community has espoused the need to be “even-handed” when it comes to Jerusalem, so as not to prejudge the outcome of negotiations over the city between Israel and the Palestinians. But this has proven to be a disingenuous argument on several levels.
For instance, a number of nations who advocate neutrality on Jerusalem have located their chief diplomatic missions to the Palestinian Authority – some at the ambassadorial level – in Jerusalem, even while their Israeli equivalents sit in Tel Aviv. This includes Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Ironically, when all eight of these nations voted for the recent UN General Assembly resolution (ES‑10/L.22) adopted on 21 December 2017 in response to President Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, they were immediately in violation of its terms, as it explicitly called upon all nations “to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.” If the international community were truly worried about states prejudging the issue of Jerusalem, they would have demanded long ago that these nations remove their diplomatic missions to the Palestinians from Jerusalem.
President Trump’s recent decision on Jerusalem actually will bring a much-needed balance to U.S. policy in this regard, as the top State Department envoy to the PA has been sitting for years in the American Consulate on Agron Street in western Jerusalem. His decision also places an embarrassing spotlight on those nations who insist on neutrality towards Jerusalem and yet allow its violation every day in favor of the Palestinians.
In a further example of this blatant partiality, the members of the UN Security Council – with the acquiescence of the outgoing Obama administration – adopted a resolution on 23 December 2016 which thoroughly contradicts their supposed even-handed approach. UNSC resolution 2334 declared East Jerusalem to be “occupied Palestinian territory,” and determined that Israeli actions there were “settlement activities” which constitute “a flagrant violation of international law.” This amounts to the UN’s highest body deliberately prejudging the outcome of talks over the future status of Jerusalem, and in the process severely undermining the bedrock of all previous international peacemaking efforts – UNSC resolution 242. There is an urgent need for world leaders to rectify this major diplomatic blunder.
The Fear Factor
There is one primary reason remaining for why most nations still refuse to recognize Jerusalem and move their embassies there, and that is fear of the potentially violent Arab and Islamic response. This is not a policy based on principle, fairness or historical right, but solely on timidity over the possible reaction from the Arab and Muslim world. Due to such apprehensions, many sovereign nations have effectively ceded to the Palestinians a veto power over their decisions and policies concerning Jerusalem. Yet the recent U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem did not trigger the sort of regional conflagration which many were predicting. While there were some protests worldwide, most Palestinians seemed resigned to the reality that Israel is in Jerusalem to stay.
The Benefits of Recognition
Thus, the time has come to finally end the diplomatic shunning of Jerusalem, while at the same time infusing new life into the Middle East peace process. By joining the United States in officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving their embassies there, other nations would remove this diplomatic stain from their records while also signaling the Palestinians that the time for compromise has come. This show of strength and resolve will also send a message to the entire world that peace and progress for the region will no longer be a captive of irrational actors and brazen intimidation.
Surely, there will be no harm to the outcome of peace talks if the nations of the world follow the American lead in placing their embassies in western Jerusalem. All serious parties know this sector of the city will remain part of Israel in any final status agreement. Nor is anyone seriously looking for a return to that dismal era from 1948 to 1967 when the city was forcibly divided. And Israel would still be able to work out a suitable arrangement for the city in peace talks with the Palestinians.
The Proper Custodian
Certainly, Jerusalem must be kept open and shared by all those with faith in God. But the Jewish people are the true and proper custodians of the city. Christians and Muslims can trust the Jewish people in this regard, because their own Hebrew scriptures demand that they maintain the city as a “house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7), where all can come to worship and pray to the Lord God. Israel indeed has committed to protecting religious freedoms, first guaranteed in its Declaration of Independence, as well as to maintaining the status quo with regards to access to the city’s holy sites. In fact, of all the sovereign rulers over Jerusalem down through the centuries, Israel has compiled the best track record in ensuring freedom of worship in the city and allowing access to its holy places. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem can readily attest to this, as for the past 40-plus years we have hosted the largest annual tourist event in Israel, the Christian celebration of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, and have always been free to worship as we see fit.
The Jewish claim and connection to Jerusalem dates back 4,000 years to the time when the Hebrew Patriarch Abraham first came to Mount Moriah to offer up his son Isaac, as the Bible recounts in Genesis chapter 22. Some 3,000 years ago, King David made Jerusalem the capital of his unified Israelite kingdom, and instructed his son Solomon to build a Temple there. The city has been the center of Jewish religious, political and cultural life ever since, and from it have flowed sacred concepts and prophetic visions of global peace that have inspired the entire world. Even during the time of the long Jewish exile, their hopes, prayers and pilgrimages were all directed towards Jerusalem. The deep Jewish attachment to the city predates the rise of Christianity and Islam by many centuries. No other people or nation has ever made it their capital, save for a short-lived Crusader kingdom.
In comparison, while some Muslims consider Jerusalem the third holiest city in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, this is not true for all Muslims. Many Shi’a Muslims actually revere the cities of Qom, Najaf and Karbala ahead of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, many Sunni Muslims, especially in the Wahhabi movement, reject Muslim veneration of Jerusalem as a later hadith (tradition) and not one of the original traditions of the faith established by Muhammad and his closest companions. As a result, very few Arab rulers and Muslim religious leaders have ever visited the Dome of the Rock shrine or al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in modern times, even during the years of Ottoman Turk and Jordanian rule. It just seems that the city only takes on any real significance for many Arabs and Muslims when it is in Jewish hands.
Time to Ascend
Still, Jerusalem remains a sensitive issue. Yet if every democratic, freedom-loving nations decided to return to Jerusalem, it would go a long way in defusing tensions in the region. Some nations once had their national embassies in Jerusalem but left because of threats of violence and oil embargoes. Today, a violent response to this peaceful, principled return to Jerusalem could never be justified, while the power of Arab oil embargoes has been largely diminished by the discovery of massive gas and oil deposits elsewhere.
Such a return to Jerusalem will not prejudice the final status talks over the city nor impede access to its holy sites. It also should be made clear that there will be no tolerance for misrepresenting these facts and engaging in baseless rhetoric that only enflames the situation, such as false claims that the al-Aqsa mosque is endangered.
In Jewish tradition one always ascends to Jerusalem, no matter which direction you come from. It is a city like no other! It has been revered for generations, and was often depicted as the center of the earth. Long before there was a Paris, London, Beijing or Tokyo, Jerusalem already shined forth in all directions. Kings and potentates were drawn to its glory. Multitudes sang its praises in a myriad of languages. Thus, there is no valid reason to continue denying Jerusalem its rightful place among the great capital cities of the world. Now is the time for the nations to ascend to Jerusalem once more in their official capacity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David R. Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, ordained minister and Middle East specialist who serves as Vice President and Senior International Spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. He co-wrote the initial draft of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 for Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is a global ministry representing millions of Christians worldwide who share a love and concern for Israel and who seek to repair the historic breach between the Church and the Jewish people. The ICEJ was founded in 1980 as a permanent expression of Christian solidarity with Israel and particularly its capital of Jerusalem, in recognition of the ancient Jewish attachment to this city. From its headquarters in Jerusalem, the ICEJ oversees a worldwide movement with established branch offices in over 90 nations and a reach into more than 170 countries worldwide.