United States recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel

On December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced the United States recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel[1] and ordered the planning of the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.[2][3] Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, welcomed the decision and praised the announcement. On December 8, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clarified that the President's statement "did not indicate any final status for Jerusalem" and "was very clear that the final status, including the borders, would be left to the two parties to negotiate and decide."[4]

Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital was rejected by a majority of world leaders. The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on 7 December where 14 out of 15 members condemned Trump's decision, but the motion was vetoed by the United States.[5] Britain, France, Sweden, Italy and Japan were among the countries who criticized Trump's decision at the emergency meeting.[6] Other countries supported the move: Guatemala said that they will follow up and also relocate their embassy; Paraguay, the Czech Republic, Romania and Honduras said that they were considering relocation.[7] The European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that all governments of EU member states were united on the issue of Jerusalem, and also reaffirmed their commitment to a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.[8] Representatives from 32 countries were present at opening of the embassy, including EU members Austria, Czech Republic and Romania. [9]

Palestinian officials have said the announcement disqualifies the United States from peace talks, while Hamas called for a new intifada following Trump's declarations.[10][11][12] Following the announcement there were demonstrations throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in Iran, Jordan, Tunisia, Somalia, Yemen, Malaysia and Indonesia, and outside the U.S. embassy in Berlin.[13] By December 25, 2017, Salafi groups had fired almost 30 rockets towards Israel from the Gaza Strip, with almost half landing inside Gaza. Two caused minor damage to property near Ashkelon and Sderot, and Hamas rounded up the Salafists thought responsible for the attacks.[14][15]

On February 23, 2018, the State Department announced the new US embassy will open in May.[16] The US embassy was officially opened in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The location of the relocated embassy is at the former site of its consulate general in the Arnona neighborhood, in West Jerusalem.

Background

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War in 1967 and formally annexed it in 1980 (see Jerusalem Law).[17]

After the founding of the State of Israel in 1949, the United States recognized the new state, but considered it desirable to establish an international regime for Jerusalem,[18] with its final status resolved through negotiations.[19] The US opposed Israel's declaration of Jerusalem as its capital in 1949 and opposed Jordan's plan to make Jerusalem its second capital announced in 1950.[20] The US also opposed Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 war.[20] The official United States position has been that the future of Jerusalem should be the subject of a negotiated settlement.[20][21] Subsequent administrations have maintained the position that Jerusalem's future not be the subject of unilateral actions that could prejudice negotiations, such as by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.[20]

During the 1992 presidential election Bill Clinton promised that his administration would "support Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel" and criticized President George H.W. Bush for having "repeatedly challenged Israel’s sovereignty over a united Jerusalem." However, after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Clinton administration did not proceed with their plans in order not to disturb the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.[22]

In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which declared that "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel."[23] The bill also stated that the American embassy should move to Jerusalem within five years.[22] Backing the legislation was viewed by some as reflecting American domestic politics. Clinton opposed the Jerusalem Embassy Act and signed a waiver every six month delaying the move.[22]

During the 2000 election campaign, George W. Bush criticized Clinton for not moving the embassy as he had promised to do, and said he planned on initiating the process himself as soon as he was elected. However, once he took office, he backed down on his promise.[22]

In 2008, then Democratic candidate Barack Obama called Jerusalem the 'capital of Israel'. On June 4, 2008, Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in his first foreign policy speech after capturing the Democratic nomination the day before, that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." However, he backtracked almost immediately, saying "Well, obviously, it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations."[24]

During the 2016 US Presidential election, one of Trump's campaign promises was to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which he described as the "eternal capital of the Jewish people."[25] On June 1, 2017, Trump signed a waiver on the Jerusalem Embassy Act, delaying the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem for another six months, as had every president before him since 1995. The White House stated that this would help them negotiate a deal between Israel and Palestine, and that the promised move would come at a later time.[26]

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