Middle East Peace: Why Jerusalem Matters

Since Israel’s independence, the status of Jerusalem has been contested. The international community maintains that Jerusalem is integral to the future of any settlement between Israel and Palestine, much to the displeasure of interested parties.

What is Jerusalem?

Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. Known as the ‘Holy City’, it is the home of various holy sites to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Israel and Palestine both recognize it as their capital, though the United States is the one of the only foreign countries to formally recognize the city as Israel’s capital. Though the city holds various consulates, it does not hold official embassies, which are located in Tel Aviv.

Why does the city matter?

Israel and Palestine both claim the city of Jerusalem as their rightful capital. The United Nations, along with the European Union and various countries around the world, agree that the city should be co-administered by Israeli and Palestinian officials. This would adhere to the 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine, otherwise known as UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (II). The resolution would have split Israel into a separate Israeli and Palestinian state based upon mutually accepted borders, but soon after the adoption of the resolution war broke out and the plan was not implemented.

Where is the American embassy now?

The American embassy is currently in Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast. This follows standard diplomatic practice with Israel, adhering to UN resolutions. Canada’s embassy is also in Tel Aviv. The last country to have an embassy in Jerusalem was Bolivia, which had their embassy (located on the outskirts of the city) closed in 2009 upon the cessation of diplomatic relations.

Why move the American embassy to Jerusalem?

The United States passed a law in 1995 mandating that the American embassy move to Jerusalem. Despite passage of the law, the American President can sign a waiver every six months that delays the move on ‘national security grounds’. This has been standard practice up until December 2017, when President Trump announced the move. Legally, the embassy can be moved at any time.  

What happened after Trump announced the move?

Responses from the international community have been mixed, though the overwhelming majority of countries voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 128 countries voted for the resolution, 9 against, and 35 abstained. Canada was on the list of abstentions, likely because of upcoming NAFTA renegotiations.

What’s the relationship between the USA and UN?

Under the Trump administration the relationship between the US and UN has become increasingly confrontational. The US continues to accuse the UN of anti-Israeli bias, vetoing most anti-Israeli resolutions that make it to the UN Security Council. Senior diplomats have noted that the American approach to lobbying before the General Assembly vote was threatening and vindictive. The US continues to pay the most to the UN because of a formula that determines contributions based on the size each member state.