by David R. Parsons
Vice President & Senior Spokesman
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem
Ever since Israel was reborn as a sovereign nation 75 years ago, the international community has offered various policy rationales for not recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the re-constituted Jewish State. Yet one by one, these stated policies have been exposed as weak and unprincipled excuses for denying the Jewish people their rightful place in Jerusalem.
One of these policy guises was laid bare when US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the American embassy there in May 2018. The US State Department, backed by numerous ‘experts,’ had long warned that placing the US Embassy in Jerusalem would trigger an Arab/Islamic backlash that would set the Middle East ablaze. But Trump tested that accepted wisdom and proved it hollow. This has finally opened the door for other nations to ascend to Jerusalem and give the city the respect it deserves.
Until Trump, American policy on Jerusalem had always been an unjust anomaly. In every other nation, the United States had its embassy in the city designated by the host country as its capital. The US and many other nations – including several Arab states – extended de facto recognition to Jerusalem by regularly doing business in the Israeli capital. Even Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, on his famous peace mission in 1977. But Washington, along with most other nations, withheld de jure recognition and even refused to accept Israel’s sovereignty in western Jerusalem, all based on a series of flimsy pretexts.
This flawed approach to the status of Jerusalem arose when the community of nations embraced the concept of internationalizing the city as proposed in the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine (UNGA Res. 181) in November 1947. The idea of placing Jerusalem under international supervision reflected a lingering colonialist attitude toward the proposed Jewish state and the religious bias of many Christian and Muslim nations who were reluctant to place Jerusalem’s holy sites under Jewish control. Even so, it is often overlooked that the UN Partition Plan expressly provided for a city-wide referendum within ten years which would have allowed the city’s residents to decide their own fate. So internationalizing Jerusalem was never intended as a permanent solution, though many political and clerical leaders still cling to this archaic concept to this day.
After Israel reunified the city in June 1967, there was a continuing collective effort to deny the Jewish State and people their rightful place in Jerusalem under other pretenses. As previously noted, one of the main rationales was fear of a potentially violent Arab and Islamic response. This timid approach effectively granted the Palestinians a veto over the fate of Jerusalem, and they indeed proved themselves all too willing and predisposed to inciting violence and conflict over the city.
This misguided policy was reflected in the way every US Administration before Trump exercised the presidential waiver authority in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which allowed the president to delay the mandated move of the American embassy every six months if he certified it was in US “national security interests.” This was a policy based not on principle, fairness or historical right, but solely on fear. Yet President Trump finally demonstrated that the nations can officially recognize and honor Israel’s unique historic attachment to Jerusalem without enflaming the entire region.
Trump’s decision also exposed another diplomatic ruse concerning Jerusalem – the pretense of neutrality. Over recent decades, the international community has stressed the need to be even-handed when it comes to Jerusalem, so as not to prejudge the outcome of final-status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over the city. But this argument has proven to be disingenuous, as became clear when the United Nations General Assembly quickly adopted a resolution (ES‑10/L.22 / 21 December 2017) which demanded that the United States immediately withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Although the UNGA resolution demanded that all nations refrain from opening “diplomatic missions” in Jerusalem, a number of European nations who voted for the measure were instantly in violation of its terms because they have diplomatic missions located in Jerusalem from which their senior envoys to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah operate, while their Israeli equivalents sit in Tel Aviv. The list of offending nations includes Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
Even more concerning, the UN Security Council completely contradicted this even-handed approach in its hasty passage of Resolution 2334 (December 2016), which declared east Jerusalem to be “occupied Palestinian territory.” This amounted to the UN’s highest body deliberately prejudging the outcome of talks over the future status of Jerusalem, and in the process severely undermining the bedrock of all previous international peace-making efforts, UNSC Resolution 242.
In truth, the neutrality argument has simply been a negotiating ploy to force Israel into making concessions, and it has failed to produce any positive results.
Thankfully, more nations are starting to realize this and have begun to ascend to Jerusalem through various diplomatic steps and timetables. Guatemala was the first to follow the United States in opening an embassy in Jerusalem. Honduras and Kosovo first placed diplomatic envoys in the city before opening a full-fledged embassy. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have started down that path as well, and the hope is they will soon proceed with embassy openings, despite heavy pressure from the European Union. Papua New Guinea is the latest country to officially announce its intent to open an Embassy in Jerusalem, with plans to do so within the next two years. The new government of Fiji is considering the same, based on a provision in their coalition agreement which calls for opening an Embassy in Jerusalem. There are several other nations in Oceania, Africa, Europe and Latin America who also are considering the move to Jerusalem. President Trump opened the door for them in 2017 and hopefully more nations will now follow suit.
These countries are respecting the sovereign right of every nation to designate the city of its choice to serve as its capital and seat of government. It is a great injustice that Israel is the only country in the world denied this right. No one should ever doubt the deep, long-standing Jewish attachment to Jerusalem, which goes back four thousand years. Over these many centuries, Jerusalem has been the capital of only one nation – Israel. Today, Jerusalem is revered by billions of people of faith worldwide, but it was first cherished by the Jewish people and they were the ones who gave the city such immense universal significance.
Some are warning that such a move will harm the peace process, when in fact it actually improves the prospects for peace. To this day, the Palestinian leadership has denied the historic Jewish connection to their ancient homeland and especially to Jerusalem, instead painting Israel as a temporary ‘colonialist’ implant. More nations recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would serve to disabuse the Palestinians of this odious narrative, which undermines any chances for lasting peace. And it would simply be a common sense acknowledgment of the reality of Israel’s permanence and of Jerusalem’s status as its official capital.
Such a decision also would signal the Palestinians that the time for compromise has come. For seventy-five years now, the international community has granted the Palestinian leadership a veto power over the fate of Jerusalem, which they have used to hold hostage the future and well-being of not only Israel but their own people and the entire region. We should not have to wait another seventy-five years for the Palestinians to finally decide to make peace for their own good. Rather than fuel the relentless Palestinian campaign to delegitimize Israel by lopsided UN votes, it is time for the nations to delegitimize their unyielding rejection of Israel’s very existence.
For these and other reasons, we should urge our respective national governments to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin the process of moving our national embassies to Jerusalem as soon as feasible. Such a decision will not preclude the parties from finding a way to share the city of Jerusalem in any future peace negotiations. But until then, there is no valid reason to deny Jerusalem its rightful place as Israel’s capital.
For over thirty years now, I have been advocating for a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, in that time, I have learned that the question of Jerusalem can be made a lot more complicated than it need be. This battle is never easy and progress often seems to come at a glacial pace. It can induce seasoned diplomats to abandon principle and lose perspective. Those who oppose such a move always distort the truth and they never play fair. They can bring enormous economic pressure to bear, and they readily deal in intimidations and threats. But we are now in a new season, when the nations are free to choose to ascend to a Jerusalem which – in a remarkably rare case of historic justice – has rightly returned to Jewish hands.
This article builds on Parson’s contribution at the Israel on Trial Conference in March 2023.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David R. Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, ordained minister and Middle East specialist who serves as Vice President and Senior International Spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. Parsons helped spearhead the effort for passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, co-writing the first draft of this law for Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and organizing a grassroots campaign to secure its passage.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is a global ministry representing millions of Christians worldwide who share a love and concern for Israel and who seek to repair the historic breach between the Church and the Jewish people. The ICEJ was founded in 1980 as a permanent expression of Christian solidarity with Israel and particularly its capital of Jerusalem, in recognition of the ancient Jewish attachment to this city. From its headquarters in Jerusalem, the ICEJ oversees a worldwide movement with established branch offices in over 90 nations and a reach into more than 170 countries worldwide.