The Problems with US’ Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

Consistent with his electoral promise ‘to look at the world’s challenges with open eyes and fresh thinking,’ as well as not ‘solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past,’ because ‘old challenges demand new approaches,’ President Donald Trump announced the US government’s recognition of Jerusalem as the official capital of the State of Israel on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.
The recognition not only put an end to the US 70-year old policy on Tel Aviv as the political capital of Israel, but also unnecessarily subjects the good people of America to greater insecurity and hostility. True, the recognition can also be considered as a part fulfilment of the campaign promises of Donald Trump, even if it is a recognition that has the potential to greatly undermine US global interests.

And true enough, the recognition reminds of Professor Jean Baptiste Duroselle of the University of Paris, Sorbonne, who theorised that ‘tout empire périra (every empire shall perish). Every empire shall perish is acceptable a theory, especially if we admit that whatever has a beginning must also have its end. The issue, however, is the silence over the manner of bringing the empire to an end. This is precisely why the US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel appears to be a pointer to an end of US greatness in global leadership affairs.

The way Donald Trump is governing the United States appears to be largely driven by offensive-defensive strategy that first unnecessarily antagonises without due regard for possible hostile reactive measures against US citizens. The recognition cannot but create political bile and problems of monumental proportion that the Donald Trump administration may not be able to control in the near future.

It is important to note that the immediate implication may not simply be the tension or insecurity of life and property to be created by anti-American recognition. This is because the recognition is not consistent with social fairness and justice, international law, quest for peace and security in the Middle East. Donald Trump’s recognition speech is hostile to peace-making in the region. US mediation efforts in the Israelo-Arab conflict over the years have also failed because they were fraught with dishonesty of purpose. The basic principle of mediation in international law and relations is that a mediator must not simply be acceptable to the disputing parties but must not be partisan in the mediation processes. The United States is openly partisan and does not bother about whatever anyone thinks about it.

For instance, the US is the most reliable ally of Israel and has always used its veto to block any hostile UN resolution on Israel. This is why the US is never on record to be an honest broker in peace-making on the question of the Middle East crisis. The US, by so doing, has always encouraged Israel to disrespect international law, disregard the international community’s policy stand on the resolution of the Middle East crisis.

Additionally, the US Congress adopted by ‘an overwhelming bipartisan majority,’ the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995. The Act requested for the relocation of US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem over which there is dispute of national sovereignty. For various reasons, and particularly because of the issue of need for a Palestinian State, which also intends to make Jerusalem its capital, all American governments since the adoption of the Act have not implemented the request. They have been issuing waivers. Donald Trump is now the first US president to frontally act against the position of the international community.

As at today, and consistent with international diplomatic practice which requires that all diplomatic missions be accredited to a receiving state should be in the political capital of the state, Israel is playing host to 86 embassies and all of them are in Tel Aviv. There is no single diplomatic mission in Jerusalem. The US embassy is likely to be the first and possibly the only embassy to be located in Jerusalem. How do we explain Donald Trump’s rationale for the recognition?

President Trump says American ‘presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace. Some say they lacked courage, but they made their best judgments based on facts as they understood them at the time. Nevertheless, the record is in. 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.’

Thus, the first main reason given by Donald Trump is that US policy has not been helpful to peace-making and the formula has to be revisited by giving expression to the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. Another reason is that ‘Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.’ True, Donald Trump cannot be more correct. However, it is precisely how sovereign rights are exercised in light of global interests that largely determine whether or not there will be peace. Israel, assisted by the United States, has always flouted international resolutions on the matter. This is why peace has been difficult to achieve as an objective.

A third consideration is the religious and democracy factor. According to Donald Trump, ‘Jerusalem is not just the heart of three great religions, but it is now also the heart of one of the most successful democracies in the world. Over the past seven decades, the Israeli people have built a country where Jews, Muslims, and Christians and people of all faiths are free to live and worship according to their conscience and according to their beliefs.’ The question here is this: have the Jews, Muslims and Christians been prevented from worshiping according to their conscience when the capital has been Tel Aviv?

A fourth reason, in the thinking of the United States, is that there was ancient Israel and there is modern Israel. The Jewish people of Ancient Israel made the City of Jerusalem their capital. In contemporary Israel, the Jewish people also still want to make Jerusalem their capital. Considering that, ‘today, Jerusalem is the seat of modern Israeli government, it is the home of 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, and it is the headquarters of many government ministries,’ President Trump strongly, but wrongly, believes that recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is ‘in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and Palestinians.’

We do not share this viewpoint for various reasons. It will be difficult for the US and all its allies to come out and criticise any other country in the foreseeable future of not respecting international law, when the US is openly aiding and abetting Israel to act contrary to international agreements. The North Korean nuclear saga is a case in point. The US is arguing that North Korea is not complying with international instruments prohibiting nuclear tests. How will the US be able to condemn any other country when it is the agent provocateur in the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory? In illustrating this point of illegality of the US recognition, it is useful to provide a background analysis to the illegal act of recognition.

First, it is important to note that the act of recognition is not in itself illegal. It is a manifestation of the exercise of sovereignty. For a state to exist in international relations, recognition is often required before a state can establish a diplomatic mission but non-recognition does not prevent the existence of a state. Besides, recognition is not required in the location of a political capital. What is more often than not required is the location of diplomatic missions in very secure areas, especially where their persons will be most difficult to be violated.

Second, Donald Trump stated that ‘the United States remains deeply committed to help facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides’ and that he would do everything in his power ‘to help forge such an agreement.’ We contend here again that it is not possible for a partisan umpire or mediator to seek acceptable agreement to two warring parties. Already, the pronouncement of the recognition has not only been generating heated controversy but also violent protests.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the genesis of the Middle East crisis is in conflict with the act of recognition. It was a Zionist scientist, Chaim Weizmann, who pressured and persuaded the British government to issue a public statement in favour of the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, in light of the major contributions of the Jews to the British war effort against the Turks during World War 1. The British government acceded to the pressure and came up with the 1917 Williams Balfour Declaration which was ratified by the then League of Nations. On this basis, Britain was given the mandate to rule over Palestine in 1922.

This development created mixed feelings at the level of Jews and Arabs. The Jews were quite happy that they would soon possibly have a home, hence the beginning of their immigration back to Palestine, following their persecution by Nazi Germany. As noted by the US National Archives, ‘the arrival of many Jewish immigrants in the 1930s awakened Arab fears that Palestine would become a national homeland for the Jews. By 1936, guerrilla fighting had broken out between the Jews and the Arabs. Unable to maintain peace, Britain issued a white paper in 1939 that restricted Jewish immigration into Palestine. The Jews, feeling betrayed, bitterly opposed the policy and looked to the United States for support.’ This was part of the first foundations of the Israelo-American solidarity in the quest for a homeland for the Jews.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had sympathy for the Jews but told the Arabs that ‘the United States would not intervene without consulting both parties,’ which created doubts in the minds of the Arabs. President Harry S. Truman who succeeded Roosevelt accepted the Balfour Declaration, considering that the Jews needed a homeland following the holocaust to which they had been subjected. The sympathy of the United States for the Jews led to the establishment of an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, which made a ten-point recommendation in April 1946.

One of the recommendations was the Need for Peace in Palestine but there would not be peace. As further noted by the US National Archives, ‘British, Arab and Jewish reactions to the recommendations were not favourable. Jewish terrorism in Palestine antagonised the British, and by February 1947 Arab-Jewish communications had collapsed. Britain, anxious to rid itself of the problem, set the United Nations in motion, formally requesting on April 2, 1947, that the UN General Assembly set up the Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). This committee recommended that the British mandate over Palestine be ended and that the territory be partitioned into two states.’

The Jews, some of whom wanted the totality of the Palestinian land, as well as the Americans, accepted the partitioning but the Arabs vehemently opposed. The Arab League Council therefore directed its member states to move their troops to the Palestinian border in October 1947. On May 14, 1948, the Provisional government of Israel proclaimed a New State of Israel which was immediately recognised by President Truman on that same day.

As drafted and approved by President Truman, ‘This government has been informed that a Jewish State has been proclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the (Provisional) Government thereof. The United States recognises the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new (State of) Jewish State of (Israel). The words in bracket were the words inserted by President Truman before he approved the draft letter of recognition.

The Bile and Problems
What is particularly noteworthy about the letter is that the recognition came immediately after the proclamation of the new state. Besides, the US considered the Israeli government as a provisional one, and more importantly, that the provisional government was simply a de facto, and not a de jure one. Since the proclamation of the State of Israel, the Middle East has never known peace, as the Arabs and the Israelis have fought three wars with Israel always winning the battles but neither winning the war nor peace. The wars were fought in 1948, 1967, and 1973.

In 1948, Israel captured the Western half of Jerusalem and occupied it. Since then Israel lays claim to ownership through effective occupation of the land. At the end of the 1967 war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan, Israel again occupied the Eastern part of Jerusalem, which was then under Jordanian control, meaning that the whole territory of Jerusalem now came under the total and effective control of Israel. However, the occupation of Jerusalem is not lawful. The bile and problems of the future are largely derived from these unlawful acts.

First, in 1980, Israel passed the Jerusalem Law by which it is stated that ‘Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.’ United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 of 1980 declared the Jerusalem Law null and void, and therefore not acceptable to the international community, which saw the whole exercise as Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Second, Israel is on record to have always made life difficult for the Palestinians residing particularly in East Jerusalem. There are about 420,000 of them living there not as citizens of Israel but as permanent residents. The bile is that they were issued permanent residency identity cards.

As noted by Zena Tahhan and Farah Najjar, in their ‘why Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel, ‘any Palestinian who has lived outside the boundaries of Jerusalem for a certain period of time, whether in a foreign country or even in the West Bank, is at risk of losing their right to live there.’ This is in spite of the fact that ‘any Jew around the world enjoys the right to live in Israel and to obtain Israeli citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return.’ (vide The truth remains that, since 1967, Israel has revoked the status of 14,000 Palestinians.

The implication is clear: Palestinians are stateless and have to be internationally catered to. This cannot but be so because the 1917 William Balfour Declaration was meant to provide a homeland, not only for the Jews, but also for the Palestinians. The dilemma, however, is that the Jews accepted the partitioning of Palestine while the Palestinians themselves did not accept. The Arabs even said in 1948 that they would push the Israelis to the sea, a statement that undoubtedly strengthened the Israelis to adopt a policy of do or die in their quest for existence. The survival of Israel is largely due to the unflinching support of the United States.

Third, international law, as provided within the framework of the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits Israel as an occupying state, from transferring its population into both West and East Jerusalem. This also means that Israel does not have sovereignty over Jerusalem.
This observation has been largely acknowledged by the international community to the extent that, as at today, all accredited embassies are currently located in Tel Aviv, even though Russia is on record to have recognised Israel’s sovereignty over West Jerusalem but without actually locating its embassy there.

From the foregoing, there is no disputing the fact that the United States has always been at the vanguard of the unrest in Israelo-Arab conflict by its partisan position in its mediation efforts. US foreign policy under Donald Trump is particularly belligerent in design and destabilising in pronouncement. It unnecessarily lays very strong foundations for people to hate the very good people of the United States and, most unfortunately, to invite the very barbaric terrorists to intensify their attacks on both the Israelis and the Americans.

Increased terrorist attacks will increase defence costs, create new fears at home and abroad, and also further endanger global peace and security. And most unfortunately, the credibility and respect that the United States has been enjoying globally will be seriously tainted. The United States may need to look backwards and revisit the adoption of the 1823 Isolation doctrine for purposes of self-reappraisal, because Donald Trump’s strategy of political governance is giving the United States a tainted image it does not deserve.

The United States of today is being internationally presented as if the generation of American great thinkers, generation of sagacious leaders and generation of peace makers are no more. One thing is sure: Americans that are aiding and abetting Donald Trump will sooner than later discover that their greatness and leadership has more of international than national character and therefore, the United States is leader because other states are following. There is no leadership without followership. It is the current followership that the myopic leadership of Donald Trump is destroying most unfortunately.