We understand that talk about Jerusalem, Israel, and Palestine can be a sensitive topic. It is an issue that brings out passionate feelings for many. The purpose of this post is not to inflame those feelings, but to simply get a better understanding of the different points of view surrounding the capital of Israel. We will attempt to answer the question, what is the capital of Israel, knowing that this is a tricky question that depends a lot on perspective.
What is the Capital of Israel?
It’s a simple question with a decidedly complex answer: what is the capital of Israel? The answer you receive will change depending on who you ask. If you ask the Israeli government, for example, the answer would be a simple “Jerusalem.” Many would disagree with this, however.
Why is that? Well, let us first get a better sense for what Jerusalem is and why it is import.
Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world, and is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions. It has long been fought over, and throughout its history, Jerusalem has been destroyed, besieged, attacked, captured, and recaptured many, many times.
More recently, the city had long been under Ottoman control before falling under British administration during World War I. British rule of Jerusalem and Mandatory Palestine (the region that now makes up Israel and Palestine) was marking by growing unrest however, as British policies dissatisfied both Arabs and Jews.
Violence between various groups in the region would escalate throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In 1947, the UN General Assembly approved a plan which would partition Mandatory Palestine into two states: one Jewish, and one Arab. Jerusalem was to be an “international city” under the jurisdiction of the UN. This plan would never come to fruition, however.
The Fight for Jerusalem
The Arab League refused to accept the UN partition plan, feeling it was unfair and did not accurately represent the demographics of the region. This led to conflict between Jewish and Arab communities in Mandatory Palestine. On May 14, 1948, amidst this violence, Israel declared independence, and a force of Arab Nations intervened, setting off the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
This conflict would end in 1949. West Jerusalem was one of the areas captured and annexed by Israel, while East Jerusalem was captured and annexed by Jordan. In 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel would take all of Jerusalem from Jordan, along with surrounding territory.
Today, the status of Jerusalem remains one of the main issues in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1980, “Jerusalem Law” was passed by the Israeli government, declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal and indivisible” capital. All branches of the Israeli government are currently located in Jerusalem.
With this history in mind, this all brings us back to our initial question: what is the capital of Israel? We know how the State of Israel feels about the matter, but what about the rest of the world?
According to Palestine
Jerusalem is also the declared capital of the State of Palestine, though its administrative center is currently located in the city of Ramallah. Palestinian leadership considers all land captured after the Six-Day War to be part of Palestine, including East Jerusalem. Palestine does recognize Israel as a sovereign country, but has never acknowledged Jerusalem as being part of it.
The Palestinian National Authority maintains an official position that Jerusalem should be an open city (under Palestinian control) with no partitions. They assert that Palestine would guarantee freedom of worship, access, and the protection of important religious sites.
According to the United Nations
The UN General Assembly has never recognized Israel’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. They maintain an official position that Jerusalem should be placed under international control until disputes between Israel and Palestine are settled.
The UN considers East Jerusalem to be Palestinian territory that is currently occupied by Israel. They would ultimately like to see Jerusalem become the capital of both Israel and Palestine.
According to the United States
When the United States first recognized Israel, it did not imply any particular view on the status of Jerusalem. They had supported the original UN plan in 1947 to establish an international regime in the city, but later came to feel that the final status of Jerusalem should be resolved through negotiations. They traditionally have opposed declarations made by both Jewish and Arab parties regarding Jerusalem as capital.
In 1995, however, Congress voted to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999. Since the passing of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, the executive branch has continually delayed the move through a series of presidential waivers, feeling it is in the best interests of American national security.
This changed on December 6, 2017, when President Donald Trump and his administration officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, announcing his intention to move the American embassy to Jerusalem before the end of 2019. Trump made no mention of the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty over the city, however.
The CIA World Factbook, a major source for common geography standards, now lists Jerusalem as the sole capital of Israel.
According to the Rest of the World
Following President Trump’s announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the UN voted overwhelmingly to condemn this decision, with 128 countries in favor of condemnation. 35 countries abstained from voting, while another 21 did not participate. The 9 countries who voted in support of President Trump’s announcement were Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo, and the United States. However, as it stands now, no countries have an embassy in Jerusalem, while 86 have embassies in Tel Aviv.
At the end of the day, it appears the status of Jerusalem will continue to depend on who you ask. The issue has been politicized heavily, and currently, not many people can seem to see eye to eye. This is unfortunate, as it seems we will continue to be stuck with a complicated answer regarding the capital of Israel.