The major news in the Jewish (and non-Jewish) world was the U.S. administration’s announcement on Wednesday recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. This reflects the official policy of the United States as spelled out in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, overwhelmingly supported by both the U.S. Senate (93–5) and the House of Representatives (374–37) when voted upon. The Democratic and Republican party platforms have also consistently, and explicitly, acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for the past several decades—including most recently in 2016.
It has been a longstanding goal of U.S. policy to announce the capital as Jerusalem. When running for president 25 years ago, Bill Clinton promised to “support Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.” President George W. Bush criticized Clinton for not following up on that commitment, but then he did not follow through. During Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, he stated that, “we should move our embassy to Jerusalem” but never recognized the city as the capital once he was elected.
The Jewish Federations of North America sent a statement on Wednesday saying, “Today, the U.S. administration announced a plan to move the Embassy of the United States in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, honoring a bipartisan commitment made over 20 years ago in the Jerusalem Embassy Act. The U.S. administration also proclaimed its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Jewish Federations of North America welcomes this decision, as it upholds our long-standing policy. We also welcome the affirmation of a two-state future negotiated between the parties in which Israelis and Palestinians live side by side with secure and recognized borders.”
Dr. Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy earlier spoke on this topic and here is a set of videos that provide more information and greater context. Also, for additional information, please read Dr. Satloff’s written analysis on the topic and this Foreign Policy magazine article.
President Trump said the proclamation does not presume the outcome of Jerusalem’s status in negotiations. “We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem,” he said. He also made a point of urging the preservation of the status quo on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. The controlling authority on the Temple Mount now is the Muslim Waqf, and Jews are forbidden to pray on the site. The decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital does not preclude necessary future negotiations over the city’s final status, borders, or the goal of two states for two peoples.
Here is an article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on the immediate reaction from a multitude of Jewish organizations on all sides of the issue. In basically every case, each organization was very clear that they recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Yet, many expressed concerns about the impact of Wednesday’s announcement on the peace process.
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth (Great Britain) wrote:
The status of Jerusalem is a matter of great significance and import for the Jewish community and globally. Many in our community rejoice in this decision as finally recognizing the eternal capital of the Jewish people, yet there remains deep concern among others that the decision may prove to be an obstacle to peace. We are united in support of a safe and secure Israel and peace in the region.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland continues to support achievement of a lasting peace that assures the safety and security of Israel within secure borders, and two states for two peoples, directly negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians. Locally, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland will continue to promote and engage in constructive dialogue and civil discourse within and beyond the Jewish community.
Shabbat shalom and have a wonderful Chanukah holiday starting Tuesday night.