President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has provoked virtually universal international opposition. Jerusalem, diplomats agreed, is a final-status issue that should not be so recklessly pre-empted with unilateral declarations. But here are nine ways in which the international community is being hypocritical over Jerusalem:
1. Jerusalem is already recognized in practice as Israel’s capital. When foreign leaders arrive in Israel, they visit Jerusalem as the seat of the Israeli government: they meet the prime minister in his office in Jerusalem, and they address the Knesset in Jerusalem. Even the European Union, which won’t allow Israeli products from the West Bank or East Jerusalem to be labelled “Made in Israel”, conducts trade with West Jerusalem on the same terms as the rest of Israel. Why? Because in practice, it already treats West Jerusalem as part of Israel.
2. Nobody actually denies that West Jerusalem is Israeli territory. Ask diplomats what West Jerusalem’s status is, and they answer that Jerusalem’s future status should be resolved in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and that it should be a shared capital. In other words, they avoid the question about the city’s present status. They don’t argue that West Jerusalem is not under Israeli sovereignty: they just say they won’t acknowledge sovereignty over any part of the city until East Jerusalem is under Palestinian sovereignty. This denial is quite straightforwardly a denial of accepted reality.
3. Nobody claims that West Jerusalem is negotiable. During every round of final-status talks, Jerusalem was one of the final-status issues on the agenda. But only East Jerusalem. Nobody argues the Palestinians have any claim over Rehavia, or Talpiyot, or Mahane Yehuda. Even the Palestinians say their future state on 1967 lines will have East Jerusalem as its capital! But still 14 nations voted for a Security Council draft text that insists Jerusalem, as a whole, is a final-status issue to be resolved through negotiations.
4. The international community already recognizes a status for half of Jerusalem. In the same breath as saying Jerusalem’s future status must be determined in negotiations, diplomats say that East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory. So the policy of not recognizing any present status in Jerusalem only applies to West Jerusalem. That’s inconsistent. The argument that Jerusalem must be negotiated doesn’t stop diplomats recognizing East Jerusalem as presumptively Palestinian — it only stops them recognizing West Jerusalem as presumptively Israeli. There is no reasonable, logical or coherent way to recognize East Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory without recognising West Jerusalem as sovereign Israeli territory.
5. Nobody believes the original reason for denying Jerusalem to Israel. The practice is an anachronism dating back to 1947, when the UN wanted Jerusalem to be an international city so recognized neither Israeli nor Jordanian sovereignty over any part of it. By 1967, the idea was dropped. Nowadays, no country wants to internationalize Jerusalem. Despite lip service to Jerusalem’s “special status” under Resolution 181, no country argues this applies Jerusalem within the borders of the corpus separatum: like East Jerusalem, other areas included in the original map, such as Bethlehem, are considered part of the West Bank. There is no plausible reason to invoke the corpus separatum to deny Israeli claims over the west of the city when it has no relevance to the east.
6. Russia already recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and nobody cared. In April 2017, Russia announced it views West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The sky did not fall in. And not a single government condemned it. Compounding the hypocrisy, Russia voted for the draft resolution that called decisions purporting to alter the status of Jerusalem “null and void”, despite having done precisely that by recognising West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
7. Nine states already have diplomatic missions to the Palestinians in Jerusalem. Officially called “consulates-general,” these offices handle diplomatic relations with the Palestinian government. Four of them are in West Jerusalem, including the US Consulate-General. Four of these missions belong to UN Security Council members (UK, France, Sweden and Italy) that voted for the draft resolution condemning Trump’s plan to move his embassy to Jerusalem. Two diplomatic missions in Jerusalem belong to states that recognize an independent State of Palestine (Turkey and Sweden). The website of the Swedish foreign ministry even lists its Jerusalem Consulate-General under its embassies.
8. Lebanon announced plans for an embassy in Jerusalem, and nobody cared. Lebanon’s foreign minister says he called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss exchanging property for an “Embassy to Palestine” in East Jerusalem. No diplomats suggested this endangered peace or violated international law. The legal muddle-headedness of wanting to open an embassy to a state that isn’t a state, in an area outside that non-state’s control, didn’t bother Western diplomats either. It’s true that unlike the US plan, this one has zero chance of moving forward. But still, consistency.
9. Muslim states declared East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, and nobody cared. At a special meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Turkey, the 57-nation-strong body declared East Jerusalem to be the capital of an independent Palestinian state. Nobody called an urgent meeting of the Security Council to protest this attempt to alter the status of a city whose status is to be determined in negotiations. No news outlet provided wall-to-wall coverage of this “controversial” announcement or said it risked inflaming the region.
The inconsistency in international policy on Jerusalem is no happenstance. Behind the diplomatic obfuscations lies this consistency: the international community wants to see an independent Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem and will use all diplomatic tools at its disposal to make this happen. Israel’s allies withhold recognition of even West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel because they believe they can use it as leverage to coax Israel into ceding East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Israel wants recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and that means recognition has a price.
This inconsistent policy makes no logical or legal sense, but it does have a political rationale. If we want an honest conversation about Jerusalem, we need to accept that this international consensus is built on dishonest foundations. It’s a circle that cannot be squared, but pretending it’s a square serves certain foreign policy interests. Sometimes a sacred cow is really just a horse in costume and is overdue slaughter.
Eylon A. Levy is a news anchor and correspondent at i24NEWS.