For more than 3,000 years Jerusalem has been the spiritual centre of Jewish life, and since the foundation of the State of Israel, the centre of that country’s political life. In the past few decades, the Knesset has been addressed by heads of state, government and key international institutions on no less than 55 occasions. Ambassadors appointed to Israel may reside in Tel Aviv, but they present their credentials to the President at his residence in Jerusalem. Diplomatic staff meet with their counterparts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem.
So why is it apparently so controversial that the United States is taking the decision to recognise what we already know, that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel – its seat of Government and its legal institutions?
As far as the Jewish community is concerned, I think you would be hard pressed to find a significant number of people who disagree with the notion that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. There are some who may dispute where its legal boundaries should lie – and that is a matter of political opinion.
For all intents and purposes, this move will not change anything on the ground. The US Government is not passing judgement on what a final status agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians will look like – beyond the already accepted notion that there are parts of Jerusalem which will always be under Israeli sovereignty. As a diaspora Jewish community, we are also not party to these negotiations and it is for the two sides, with the support of the international community, to reach an agreement on these issues.
What is not up for negotiation is the undeniable link between Jerusalem, the State of Israel and the Jewish people – a link which goes back thousands of years.
It is telling that many of those who are warning against recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital are also those who support unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood even in the absence of a peace process and the functioning institutions of a state. Rather than fighting a losing battle against symbolism, if they seriously care about Jerusalem and the peace process, what better way to respond than to return to peace talks without preconditions as offered by Prime Minister Netanyahu?