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By: Dave Gordon

On December 23, 2016, the United Nations Security Council proclaimed that Israel had no ties – legalor otherwise –
to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the Western Wall, or other key ancient areas. The United States, under the direction of
then-president Barack Obama, abstained from the vote on
Resolution 2334, allowing it to pass.

Nearly a year later, almost to the day, President Donald Trump took the opposite stand. He proclaimed, “We finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do.”

On the day of the announcement, Dec. 6, 2017, President Trump also pledged to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In response, Sweden’s UN representative, Olof Skoog, called an emergency meeting at the United Nations, alongsideBolivia, Egypt, France, Italy, Senegal, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

The UN lambasted the move for several reasons, including: that they believed it contravened international law and Security Council resolutions, that Jerusalem should be shared with the Palestinians, and that it prejudiced the outcome of peace negotiations.

“The United Nations has repeatedly declared that any unilateral decision that seeks to alter the character and status of Jerusalem, or that may alter these long-standing principles, could seriously undermine current peace efforts and may have repercussions across the region,” Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council.

Representatives of Sweden, UK, France, Bolivia, Uruguay, Italy, China, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Japan, and Jordan also spoke, all of whom emphatically rejected the notion that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

Meanwhile, Egypt, Sweden, Russia, Japan, and Jordan warned of violence, heightening tensions, and repercussions. However, short-term low-level violence was limited to pockets of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, with clashes between Arab protestors and Israeli soldiers. One fatality was reported by the Palestinian press. This was the extent of the violence in Israel over President Trump’s announcement, despite Fatah and Hamas promising “three days of rage,” to take place from December 6thto 8th.

“The announcement had revealed a sad truth about people who threatened to ignite violence against Israel and Jews everywhere,” said Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the UN. Such “people may claim to want peace, but their actions spoke louder than words.” 

Danon said that Trump's decision “marks a milestone for Israel, for peace, and for the world,” adding that the “United States has the courage and true understanding of justice to officially state what has always been known: that Jerusalem has and always will be the capital of Israel.” He also praised the moral clarity of the US, in terms of righting a historical wrong.

President Trump began his December 6th announcement by stating, “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Later President Trump continued, “We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches.”

But the primary drive behind the decision was to recognize, and put into place, what had been passed into US law twenty-two years earlier.

President Trump noted that in 1995 Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, enshrining in law that the federal government is to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while also recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Furthermore, he said that the Act was passed by an “overwhelming bipartisan majority, and was reaffirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago.”

Since the Act’s passing, however, a waiver has been signed every six months by every president since, temporarily overriding the law. “Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace,” noted President Trump.

“After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result. Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver.”

President Trump explained that as a sovereign nation, Israel – like any other country – should be entitled to determine its own capital. It stands to reason that thechange be made, he added, because Jerusalem is home to the Knesset, the Israeli Supreme Court, the official residences of the prime minister and the president, and the headquarters of most governmental offices. Moreover, visiting US dignitaries of all levels, “have met their Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem.”

The Trump announcement did not outline a timeline for the actual set up and building of the embassy.

President Trump insisted that the decision was not meant to change the US’ “strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement” and that he was “not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.”

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley declared in the UN Security Council assembly that it was “simple common sense that foreign embassies be located” in Jerusalem, because embassies in every other country were hosted in capital cities, and “Israel should be no exception.”
Her words echoed the president’s with regard to Jerusalem and final status negotiations. She also harshly critiqued the UN, which she noted was a forum that continues to be highly biased against Israel. 

“The United States will not be lectured to by countries that lack any credibility when it comes to treating both Israelis and Palestinians fairly,” Haley said.

Unstated in any of the supportive diplomatic addresses was the fact that there is clear evidence of Jerusalem’s 3,000-year-old archeological, geographical, and religious ties to the Jewish people. Nearly 700 times Jerusalem is mentioned in the Tanach. There is no mention of Jerusalem in any Muslim holy text, and Islamic artifacts only date back to the ninth century.

For millennia, Jews have prayed towards Jerusalem, and Muslims have prayed with their backs to Jerusalem. Since the destruction of the Temple, Jews have hoped for a return to Jerusalem, and mention her in prayers each day.

Historically, only the Jewish people have claimed Jerusalem as their capital, but only in the last five decades has this claim been made by Palestinian Arabs. The now-defunct Islamic name for Jerusalem had been Bayt al-Muqaddas – like the Hebrew
Beit Hamikdash– referring to the Jewish Temple.

At the San Remo Conference, held in Italy in 1920, the Allied powers confirmed the pledge contained in the Balfour Declaration concerning the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, including all of Judea and Samaria, and what is todayreferred to as Jordan. The League of Nations legally ratified this agreement, and it has not been abrogated since that time.

Peace has been elusive in the Middle East. Yet President Trump spoke with optimism. Towards the end of his announcement the president said, “Above all, our greatest hope is for peace, the universal yearning in every human soul. With today’s action I reaffirm my administration’s longstanding commitment to a future of peace and security in the region…I ask the leaders of
the region — political and religious; Israeli and Palestinian; Jewish and Christian and Muslim — to join us in the noble quest for lasting peace.”