Concerning Jerusalem as Capital

Giovanni Sale, SJ

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President Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem

On December 6, 2017, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, simultaneously declaring that he would relocate the U.S. Embassy there as soon as possible. The president announced this decision as “a long overdue step” that his predecessors were not courageous enough to take. In fact, back in 1995, during the Clinton administration, the U.S. Congress had already recognized Jerusalem as the “capital of Israel.” At the same time, they had mandated that the president sign a judicial “suspension” that kept the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, in accord with the international community.[1] It should also be taken into account that, in his declaration, Trump did not recognize Jerusalem – as Netanyahu would have wanted – as the “eternal and undivided” capital of Israel, but simply as its political capital: “Every sovereign state,” he affirmed, “has the right to decide where its capital will be.”[2]

While reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the two-state solution and the idea that negotiations between the parties should resolve the matter of borders of Israeli jurisdiction, Trump’s decision effectively introduces recognition of Israeli positions expressed in the Basic Law of 1980, in contradiction to the stance of the United Nations on these issues. In fact, in condemning the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the annexation of East Jerusalem, denying any kind of juridical validity in international law to the decision of the Knesset to transform the city into its capital, the U.N. had ordered all embassies of the various countries to withdraw from Jerusalem. The U.S. president does not rule out the possibility that Palestinians, too, could have their capital in the eastern part of the city. In practice, despite a proposal by U.S. negotiators to acknowledge the Palestinian village of Abu Dis – which was discussed in the time of Yasser Arafat as the capital of the State of Palestine – this solution seems unrealistic, since it was rejected by the Palestinian leaders themselves. Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the statement with satisfaction, affirming that “for 3,000 years Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jews” and that the president of the U.S. did no more than recognize the de facto situation.

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