“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance
of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.
But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”
Thomas Paine, Common Sense
January 9, 1776
Some political pretend-to-know-it-all pundits are taking to the airwaves to decry President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They have noted that Jerusalem is too sensitive a topic for the United States to endorse without approval from the Palestinian Authority and the Muslim and Arab world. They are incensed that Trump has abandoned common practice of past presidents these last decades.
But they are wrong. The issue of Jerusalem was settled in 1995, and not just by the US Congress, but by the Palestinian Authority itself.
The 1947 Plan
The United Nations wanted to reserve the “Holy Basin” of religious sites of the three monotheistic faiths into a “corpus separatum,” an international zone that would not be part of either a Jewish State (which would have a minority of Arabs) nor of an Arab one (which would have a minority of Jews). This area included greater Jerusalem and greater Bethlehem.
The Arabs of Palestine and the greater Arab world rejected the plan, while the Jews of Palestine and many countries at the United Nations supported the plan.
It would never go into effect.
1948-1949 Israel’s War of Independence
As soon as Israel declared itself an independent country in May 1948 when the British ended their mandate, armies from five Arab countries invaded Israel. At war’s end, Israel took control of the western part of Jerusalem while Jordan took control of the eastern half of Jerusalem and all of greater Bethlehem and the West Bank.
The Jordanians and Israelis would sign an Armistice Agreement in 1949 establishing the contours of non-belligerency, but not peace. That line became known as the “Green Line.” The countries of the world recognized Israel’s borders west of the Green Line, but did not recognize the Jordanian annexation of the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
While the world recognized the expanded borders of Israel beyond that proposed in the 1947 UN Partition Plan, it would not recognize the western half of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in the hopes that peace could be established with inclusion of aspects of corpus separatum in a peace agreement.
Things moved in the opposite direction.
The Jordanians expelled all Jews from their section of corpus separatum and forbade the entry of Jews into the Old City. They would offer citizenship to all Arabs who lived in the area, and specifically exclude any Jews from obtaining Jordanian citizenship in 1954.
From 1967 to 1995
In June 1967, the Jordanians (and West Bank Palestinian Arabs since they had taken Jordanian citizenship), attacked Israel again and lost all of the land they had illegally annexed including the eastern portion of corpus separatum. Israel rescinded the ban on Jews living and visiting their holiest city of Jerusalem and tore down the barbed wire that had split the city in two. It also enabled all Arabs who wanted to obtain Israeli citizenship to apply. Thousands of Arabs have done so.
By 1980, Israel had defined new borders for Jerusalem which excluded the southern portion of corpus separatum around Bethlehem, and declared Jerusalem “complete and united, is the capital of Israel.”
Some countries moved their embassies to Jerusalem in the wake of the announcement, such as Costa Rica in 1982 and El Salvador in 1984, in the hope of winning political and economic support from Israel. However, both countries moved their embassies to Tel Aviv in 2006, in the hopes of establishing stronger relationships with the Muslim and Arab world.
Oslo II Accords of 1995
The Israelis and Palestinian Arabs reached an agreement to begin a peace process in 1993. Two years later, in September 1995, they signed the Oslo II agreements. Those agreements put the nails in the coffin for the concept of an international body overseeing corpus separatum.
First, the Palestinian Authority recognized that Israel controlled Jerusalem. Any decisions that happened with Jerusalem would be done in conjunction with Israel. This is a far cry from what people see and read today, where everything that Israel does in Jerusalem is described as illegal and subject to condemnation at the United Nations Security Council.
Further, the PA only labeled Jewish towns in Gaza and the West Bank as “settlements.” Jews living in Jerusalem were specifically excluded from being labeled as settlers. Today, acting-President of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas cannot blink his eyes without calling Jews in the Old City as “right-wing settlers” and “colonialists,” even though the last agreement signed by both Israel and the PA clearly stated that they were not settlers.
Most significantly, the PA and Israelis agreed to begin to chop up the corpus separatum. The concept that it would be an international city was dismissed, as the Holy Basin would be divided between the two parties. This began in practice shortly after the Oslo II Accords were signed, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu handed over control of Bethlehem to the PA in December 1995.
The United States was supportive of these moves. As part of the effort to move the parties along, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in October 1995. The Act focused just on Jerusalem – half of corpus separatum, as Bethlehem was being transferred by Israel to the Palestinian Arabs – stating “it to be U.S. policy that:
(1) Jerusalem remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic religious group are protected;
(2) Jerusalem be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and
(3) the U.S. Embassy in Israel be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”
The Act did allow the US president to waive the move of the embassy every six months, and for over 20 years, US presidents did just that:
“Authorizes the President to suspend for six months (with possible subsequent six-month extensions) the 50 percent limitation on the obligation of funds with respect to the opening of the Embassy if he determines and reports to the Congress that a suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”
That ended in 2017.
The US Recognizes Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel in 2017
On December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump said “Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. It is the home of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli Supreme Court. It is the location of the official residence of the prime minister and the president. It is the headquarters of many government ministries…. we finally acknowledge the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”
The reality of Israel’s choice of Jerusalem as its capital had never been in dispute. People questioned US support of that choice. Many key components of that decision were clear:
- The US and many countries recognized Israel’s sovereignty over western Jerusalem in 1949
- The Palestinian Authority and Israel recognized Israel’s control of Jerusalem and the PA’s control over Bethlehem in 1995
- The US Congress declared that “Jerusalem be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel,” in 1995
But legal scholars debated whether Congress had the ability to make such determination, as only the executive branch had constitutional authority to set foreign policy. That question ceased with Trump’s declaration.
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong,…”
Despite most of the world recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over western Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority control over Bethlehem, many continued to contort themselves as to why they did not move their embassies to Jerusalem.
- Countries contend that the 1947 UN Partition Plan with corpus separatum continued to have merit, even though the principle parties had moved past that formula many years ago.
- Countries defend their refusal to move their embassies to Jerusalem because the Arabs do not recognize any claim of Israel to Jerusalem. But the Palestinian Authority has not officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over western Jerusalem any more than Tel Aviv. Therefore, how can the location of the embassy have more credibility in Tel Aviv than Jerusalem?
- Countries believe that Jerusalem is matter for the Israelis and Palestinian Authority to determine, but Trump said the exact same while announcing the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. One does not preclude the other.
A great American patriot, Thomas Paine, pointed out that people have a tendency to be lulled into the belief that a status quo is a proper course of action. They come blinded to the wrong and comfortable with its stench. They will even contrive reasons to rationalize the offense.
Both reason and time have demonstrated that the path to peace does not reside either in minds that deny the truth or hearts that curse the obvious. Israel’s capital is Jerusalem and should be the home of all foreign embassies.
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