News Archives

The Capital of Israel

January 3, 2018

During assembly on Wednesday, January 3, Ben Remis '18 spoke about President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Ben spoke as a member of the Current Events Club which seeks to share objective information about important policy developments. His remarks follow:

Good morning students, faculty and Mr. Abbott.

On December 6, President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On the surface, this announcement seems to be of little importance. The land of Israel, and in particular the city of Jerusalem, has great religious importance in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. But Jerusalem is already the capital, and who cares if the US acknowledges it? Well, like much of the Middle East right now, there is a lot of complex history and conflict.

Briefly, let’s go over some of that history. The country of Israel, along with Palestine, was created in 1948, as part of a UN vote that divided the region into two states. You can see from this map [right] how strange of a divide it was. Immediately following this declaration, however, each of Israel’s neighbors declared war and attacked.

Here [see below] is Israel today. The original division of the land no longer exists, because the wars have resulted in the borders changing drastically. Almost 70 years have gone by, and the region has maintained this state of conflict ever since. 

Traditionally, foreign embassies are housed in the capital of a country. Since 1980, however, most embassies in Israel have instead been in the next largest city of Tel Aviv, with all embassies moving to the Mediterranean coast by 2006. To put this in perspective, it would be as if D.C. remained home to the White House, Supreme Court and Capitol Building, but foreign embassies stayed in New York. The thinking behind this is for safety reasons, as well as to avoid the controversy that surrounds the city. Like their global counterparts, the U.S. has traditionally maintained a policy of keeping their embassy in Tel Aviv. This policy has been kept in spite of the law passed by Congress in 1995 that required the embassy to move to Jerusalem, because every six months since that law was passed, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have signed a presidential waiver to postpone the move for security reasons.

This December in his speech, President Trump stated that the process of moving the embassy is beginning. He said, "Today 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. It’s something that has to be done.”

The immediate global reaction to the President’s announcement was not too positive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the decision was tantamount to the US "abdicating its role as a peace mediator” and that "These deplorable and unacceptable measures deliberately undermine all peace efforts.”  There has already been a rise in Palestinian protests since the announcement.

It wasn’t just Palestinians who were upset with the decision. Two weeks ago, the UN voted 128-9 to declare President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital null and void. The President has since responded by threatening to withhold future aid to the UN.

The Pope, the European Union and many others were also disappointed with the announcement. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said President Trump's statement "would jeopardize the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians."

The Jewish community was divided in their opinion. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as American Jewish groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition and The American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised the decision, reaction elsewhere was much less congratulatory. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Community of Greater Washington and others were disappointed with the President’s decision. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, summed up this point of view. He said, “While we share the president’s belief that the US embassy should, at the right time, be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process.”

I personally had the chance to discuss this announcement with an Israeli citizen, and she was similarly split on the issue. While she said that some of her friends who called her were filled with hope and calling for December 6th to be written into the history books, others were simply scared that the announcement would provoke violence and death during what had recently been a calmer climate.

In the end, only time will tell whether President Trump’s announcement was a historic step towards peace, or an unneeded escalation of violence.

Thank you.