US recognition of the eternal city as Israel’s capital and the Trump peace plan pave the way forward.
The new coalition government has an opportunity to build in Jerusalem and expand the city like never before. All the stars are lined up in the right constellation. We just need the courage to act.
Just two years ago, on May 14, 2018 (the 70th anniversary of founding of the State of Israel), the US opened an embassy in Jerusalem to great fanfare. Earlier, on December 6, 2017, President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He explained that Jerusalem always had been the historic capital of the Jewish people, and the seat of Israel’s government.
“This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do,” he said. He refrained, however, from delineating the city’s borders.
Critics deplored these US moves because of their potential destabilization of the region. They warned of an impending wave of Palestinian terrorism, of riots in the streets of the Arab world, and of violence against US embassies.
Nothing of this sort happened. What did happen? The American decisions inspired other nations to take steps to recognize Jerusalem, to move their embassies and to establish missions in the city.
So far, Guatemala is the only other country to have moved its embassy to Jerusalem. Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Australia now have trade offices in the city, with varying levels of diplomatic status. Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia have pledged to open similar missions in Jerusalem as well.
Honduras also opened a trade mission in Jerusalem with diplomatic status, a move the country’s president said was a “first step” toward moving the embassy to the city. Similarly, Ukraine has informed Israel it will officially open a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem focused on innovation and investment.
The Faroe Islands (a self-governing archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean and a part of Denmark) plans to open an office for diplomatic representation in Jerusalem and intends to recognize the city as the capital of Israel.
Australia has formally recognized western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but said it will not move its embassy from Tel Aviv until a peace settlement is reached. In March 2019, it quietly opened a trade and defense office in Jerusalem. Russia also has recognized western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israel is continuing to make diplomatic efforts to convince additional states to move their embassies to the eternal city.
THE RECOGNITION of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state appears to have become a permanent principle of US foreign policy. Former vice president Joseph Biden, the current Democratic Party candidate for president, has said that, if elected, he will not move the US Embassy back to Tel Aviv. As more time passes, additional countries will surely be persuaded to emulate the American moves and recognize reality.
Most Israelis were elated by US recognition of the Jewish people’s ancient roots in Jerusalem. King David made Jerusalem his capital 3,000 years ago. To Israelis, this is elementary historical justice, and Trump made a historic and courageous decision. Where other presidents have promised, Trump delivered.
The Trump Mideast peace plan (aka “The Deal of the Century”) has further fortified Israel’s control over Jerusalem. The plan affirms Israel’s right to the entirety of “undivided Jerusalem,” reiterating its recognition as Israel’s capital. The plan places the Old City of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty ,and gives Israel the task of safeguarding holy sites and guaranteeing freedom of worship, including Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount.
The plan rejects Palestinian claims to the Temple Mount, instead keeping it under Jordanian custodianship. Significantly, the plan suggests recognizing a capital for a future State of Palestine to be located beyond the security barrier in the environs of Jerusalem.
Moreover, the “Deal of the Century” allows for extending Israeli law to areas around Jerusalem in the West Bank, such as Ma’aleh Adumim and the corridor linking it to Jerusalem via the E-1 corridor. This area is of paramount strategic importance, since Israel intends to maintain the Jordan Valley as its eastern defensible border.
This requires securing the highway from the Mediterranean coast, where most Israeli live, across to the Jordan Valley via an undivided Jerusalem and via Ma’aleh Adumim. Jerusalem, the only junction along the central mountains in the Land of Israel, is the linchpin for maintaining a defensive line across to the Jordan Valley.
The first priority of the new Israeli government should be building in and around Jerusalem. Within the parameters of the Trump plan, the new Israeli government should seize the opportunity to strengthen its hold over the city. Doing so commands a huge supportive consensus in Israel.
Building in E-1 and Givat Hamatos, among other locations, should be accelerated to demonstrate the great importance Israelis ascribe to control of their capital. This imperative is grounded in religious and historic reasons; and the strategic rationale for strengthening Jerusalem is no less compelling.
Published in The Jerusalem Post 13.05.2020
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