The Ottawa Jewish Bulletin only publishes one print edition per month in December and January and the December issue comes out early in the month while the January issue comes late in the month. That production schedule was set up years ago to allow the Bulletin staff to take vacations in what is usually one of the quietest times of the year for news.
Perhaps the biggest news to break in the Jewish world during our production break was U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city and that the U.S. embassy in Israel would eventually be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In fact, a law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and providing for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem was passed by the United States Congress in 1995. So Trump’s announcement was really an acknowledgement of what has been American law for more than two decades. By the way, the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support: 93-5 in the U.S. Senate and 374-37 in the House of Representatives.
One of the provisions in the law provides for a waiver to enable the president of the United States to delay moving the embassy to Jerusalem for six months. Since 1995, every U.S. president – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump – has signed the waiver every six months.
Indeed, after making the announcement, Trump signed a waiver keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv for another six months and it remains to be seen if or when he will stop signing them.
In many ways, Trump’s announcement was recognition of the obvious. Jerusalem has been the capital of the modern State of Israel for almost 70 years. The Knesset – Israel’s parliament – is in Jerusalem. So are the Israeli Supreme Court and other important institutions and offices of government.
And although no country currently locates its embassy in Jerusalem – ambassadors from all countries present their credentials at the Jerusalem residence of the Israeli president.
But the status of Jerusalem – a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam – has been in dispute for as long as Israel has been a modern state. Recall that the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, passed in 1947, called for the creation of two states: one Jewish and one Arab. But partition was rejected by the Arabs and the new State of Israel was invaded by the surrounding Arab countries when the Jewish state declared independence in 1948. When the War of Independence ended, Israel held West Jerusalem and Jordan held East Jerusalem along with the West Bank.
Under Jordanian rule, Jews were not allowed to live in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, or to have access to such holy sites as the Western Wall. That was the status quo until 1967 when East Jerusalem and the West Bank were captured by Israel in the Six Day War. Jordan had renounced any claims it had to East Jerusalem and the West Bank long before signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.
Palestinians now claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state and the policy of the Canadian government, like that of many democracies, is that the final status of Jerusalem should be resolved in the context of settling Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians – a policy that has been long unchanged by both Conservative and Liberal federal governments.
Trump’s announcement, while recognizing the obvious fact that Jerusalem is, indeed, Israel’s capital, did not preclude an eventual shared sovereignty for the city (a shared sovereignty that Israel offered the Palestinians in peace negotiations as recently as 2008 – negotiations the Palestinians walked away from).
I believe that a two-state solution will be the best possible outcome for Israel’s future and for the future of the Palestinian people. But settling the conflict, and creating a Palestinian state, will take serious negotiations. While many question how serious Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is about settling the conflict, at least he insists he’s ready to negotiate. Unfortunately, the Palestinians continue to seize on any excuse – including Trump’s announcement – to refuse to even come to the table.