Jared Kushner (right) speaking while U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman looks on at the opening ceremony of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Yonatan Sindel-Flash90)
Jared Kushner (right) speaking while U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman looks on at the opening ceremony of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Yonatan Sindel-Flash90)

Embassy move to Jerusalem rights a longstanding wrong

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May 14 loomed large in 1948. It was the date the modern State of Israel was born. It was a time of ecstasy. Nearly 19 centuries had passed since the last chance for Jewish sovereignty was destroyed, but the prayers for a return to the ancestral land — and to Jerusalem, the heartbeat of the Jewish people — had never stopped through all the years of wandering, exile and persecution.

Fast-forward 70 years to May 14, 2018. This day will be remembered, above all, for another celebration — the transfer of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to its rightful place in Jerusalem.

I have been in Israel’s capital city this week to join in the festivities and express appreciation, on behalf of the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee, to the Trump administration for its bold decision.

It shouldn’t have had to be so bold. Every country ought to have the right to choose its own capital. But that basic political rule applies to each nation on Earth, save one.

Think about it. The other 192 U.N. member states pick the site for their capital and it’s no one else’s business. But Israel, and Israel alone, has found itself in the unique position of having its self-declared capital in Jerusalem, while other nations insist it’s in Tel Aviv, where they locate their embassies and residences.

Why? We’re told it’s because the original U.N. resolution recommending a two-state solution, adopted in November 1947, designated Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, or a city with no sovereign affiliation to the proposed Arab and Jewish states. But the Arab world rejected the resolution in its entirety and declared war on Israel.

Fortunately, Israel, though heavily outgunned and outmanned, prevailed. The western part of Jerusalem came under Israeli control. The offices of the president and prime minister, the Knesset, the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were all established there.

For nearly seven decades, we have witnessed the anomaly of world leaders, whose countries reject Jerusalem as the capital, traveling precisely to that city to meet with Israeli presidents and prime ministers, to see Knesset members and to hold dialogues in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. How absurd!

We also have been treated to the assertion that Jerusalem’s status should not be determined until there is a final peace agreement. But why should Israel’s capital be spurned by the international community ad infinitum because the Palestinian leadership refuses to make a deal?

COUNTERPOINT: Friends all over the pro/anti-Israel spectrum, we need to talk about May 14

In the case of the U.S., the situation was a bit different. The rhetoric was often right, and there was even congressional legislation (Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995) to back it up, but the results never matched the words. In 2000, for example, George W. Bush said: “Something will happen when I’m president. As soon as I take office, I will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy to the city Israel has chosen as its capital.” But that never happened.

In 2008, Barack Obama declared that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

In the ensuing eight years, not only did President Obama not move to fulfill his commitment, but he actually took a big step back. When the White House office of the press secretary released the full text of the president’s eulogy at the 2016 funeral of Shimon Peres, the words “Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, Israel” were included to indicate the location. Shortly afterward, the White House pointedly deleted the word “Israel” from the text, in effect orphaning Jerusalem. It was no longer located in any country, even as Peres was being buried in Jerusalem as an Israeli statesman.

In September 2016, Donald Trump pledged to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Some observers thought he was simply parroting his predecessors by making a campaign promise he had no intention of fulfilling. But he meant what he said, which is why we all have gathered in Jerusalem to mark this historic occasion.

In today’s hyperpartisan world, many who oppose the president on other issues are unlikely to give him any credit for this move. But we remain fiercely nonpartisan and call them as we see them.

President Trump, as he said, simply recognized reality. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Period.

Does this move preclude a peace deal with the Palestinians? Absolutely not. In fact, perhaps in the long haul it accelerates the chances by signaling to their leadership that they don’t necessarily have the continued luxury of avoiding the peace table and rejecting one peace deal after another.

And does it prevent the possibility of a Palestinian state that includes part of Jerusalem within its borders, allowing the Palestinians to declare their own capital? Again, absolutely not.

May 14, 2018, was a special day in the life of Israel, and a proud day to be an American friend of Israel.

A longer version of this essay first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

David Harris
David Harris

David Harris is the New York-based CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).