Former Israeli Ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker, has written a list of “Ten Reasons for Recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel” for Israeli think-tank, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The piece comes as U.S. President Donald Trump has missed the deadline for signing a waiver that would stop the American embassy in Israel being moved to Jerusalem. Trump is widely expected to call Jerusalem Israel’s capital in coming days, but it is not yet known if he will take the controversial decision to transfer the embassy.
Baker's justification for the move is poor and easily defeated by the weight of the legal, moral and pragmatic reasons against it.
1. Jerusalem is a disputed city
Baker begins by stating that “Jerusalem has been the official capital of the State of Israel and the center of its government since 1950.”
This ignores the disputed status of the city, and the fact that Israel’s unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as its capital has not been recognized internationally.
UN Security Council resolution 478 indicated that Israel’s 1980 Basic Law - which declares that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel" - “constitutes a violation of international law.”
The city, while occupied by Israel, is claimed as a capital by both Israel and Palestine. East Jerusalem was declared the capital of Palestine in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)'s Palestinian Declaration of Independence of 1988.
2. Israel is the illegal occupier of East Jerusalem
Baker continues by giving his second reason as: “In 1967, Jordan rejected warnings from Israel and opened an aggressive war against Israel by bombarding Jerusalem. In response and in self-defense, Israel captured east Jerusalem, then controlled by Jordan.”
Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, the U.N. security council resolution 242 emphasized “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”
It called for Israel’s withdrawal from “territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
The U.N. has not changed its view. A recent general assembly resolution “reiterated that any actions by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem were illegal and therefore null and void”.
Israel’s occupation of part of the city weakens rather than justifying its claim to it.
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3. Jerusalem’s religious significance
One of Baker’s reasons for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is that it “is the ancient spiritual center of Judaism and is also considered a holy city by the members of other religious faiths.”
In fact, the religious significance of Jerusalem’s old city for Jews, Muslims and Christians means that its status is all the more controversial.
Recent tensions over security arrangements for the Al-Aqsa complex showed what a flashpoint the holy sites can be. The Second Intifada was sparked after the Israeli Prime Minister made a provocative visit to the Temple Mount.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday warned that the status of Jerusalem was a “red line” for Muslims.
It was bearing in mind Jerusalem’s religious importance that the 1947 UN partition plan sought to place it under international control, with special status as a corpus separatum (separate body). The E.U. continues to see it as such.
Indeed, his assertion that “Israel protects the holy sites of all faiths” should not go undisputed.
In September this year, for instance, Jerusalem church leaders condemned the “systematic attempt to weaken the Christian presence” in response to Israeli actions on Church lands.
4. Protecting the peace process
Baker goes on to suggest that that the U.S. calling Jerusalem Israel’s capital “would in no way prejudice or influence the peace negotiation process.”
That is patently not true. Numerous regional leaders and commentators have indicated the precise opposite in recent days.
“It would completely destroy the fragile peace process in the region,” said the Turkish deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdağ, on Monday.
The 1993 Oslo accord stipulated that Jerusalem’s final status would be discussed in later peace talks.
Indeed, as Baker himself admits, “the United States has consistently stated that the issue of Jerusalem must be solved by negotiation as part of a just, durable and comprehensive peace settlement.”
Were the U.S. to go ahead and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital with no talks on the matter, it would likely form a considerable obstacle to future negotiations.
An adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated the Palestinian leadership would stop contacts with the U.S., a key peace broker, if it made this move.
5. Maintaining the stability of the region
Baker concludes that “statements… that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or locating the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem will endanger the peace process and bring a wave of violence, are nothing but empty threats and unfortunate attempts to threaten a sovereign government and incite.”
In fact, rather than threats these statements are pragmatic warnings.
As Jordan's King Abdullah has said, the move would be exploited by extremists “to stoke anger, frustration and despair to spread their ideologies.”
A less measured caution from former Secretary of State John Kerry a few weeks before leaving office was that it would cause "an absolute explosion" in the region.
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