Recognising Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel is the correct thing to do and New Zealand should follow suit. 

The United States has publically recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move long overdue. This follows a US ruling in 1995 to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US Embassy there by 31 May 1999. Since then, all US Presidents, including President Trump in June of this year, have signed a waiver sighting US security interests. Yet publically recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a move which should be welcomed, regardless of whether or not this is followed by moving the US Embassy from its current home in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is also something that New Zealand and other countries should follow. 

Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since 1949 following the end of the War of Independence.  There may currently be no international Embassies in Jerusalem, mostly out of fear of reprisals from the Arab world, but it is the seat of the Israeli government, it is where the Supreme Court is located, and it is where all foreign diplomats come to undertake their dealings, discussions and negotiations with Israel. The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is purely acknowledging a fact. It does not predetermine any final status of East Jerusalem as this can only be agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinians, not the US, not Britain or Russia, and not the UN. It should be remembered that Israel twice, in 2000 and then again in 2008, offered Arafat and Abbas respectively a peace deal with East Jerusalem as the capital of a proposed Palestinian State. Both refused.

Even if other countries are not prepared to recognise all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or choose to be vague, there is no reason for them not to recognise West Jerusalem, at least, as the capital of Israel. Ironically, this position should be even easier following the UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Whilst 2334 tried to classify East Jerusalem as “illegal” and “occupied”, despite having no legal basis or authority to say so, the anti-Israel resolution which was co-sponsored by New Zealand, intentionally or otherwise reinforced Israel’s rights and legitimacy in West Jerusalem. If all the members of the then UN Security Council, including New Zealand voted for 2334 (the US abstained), by doing so they also agreed that West Jerusalem is part of Israel. As a sovereign State, Israel has the right to decide that where its capital should be, and other countries should accept this. This is no different from New Zealand having the right to decide that Wellington was to be its capital and not expect others to disagree by not recognising this and keeping their Embassies in Auckland. Why should it be any different for Israel?

If the United Nations, the international political environment the Palestinians insist on playing out their political conflict with Israel, has made the decision that West Jerusalem is categorically part of Israel, then there is no reason that the US and other countries should not recognise this and work on moving their Embassies there. So what is stopping them? Assuming they maintain a level of impartiality, which for many is doubtful, many advocates against the move cite the risk that recognising even West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will cause unrest, anger and the real prospect of violence. But the question surely has to be why? Why would recognising West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, regardless of the Embassy question, cause so much anger with the Palestinians and the Muslim world? 

The answer can be seen by the Palestinians continual denial of a Jewish connection to any part of Israel, and especially Jerusalem. This is played out in what Palestinian leaders say in their interviews in Arabic, but most notably how they and most of the world’s Arab nations use the bodies of the United Nations such as UNESCO, and the UN General Assembly to try to erase and deny any connection Jews have to the Holy Land, whether it be Hebron, Beer Sheva, Tiberias, Haifa, Safed, and of course Jerusalem. What we are seeing is the nations of the world being held to ransom by the unjustifiable threat of violence should countries, particularly key ones such as the US, recognise any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital. By being brave and not caving into the threat of violence, a threat that really brings into question if the Palestinians will ever accept the presence of a Jewish State in Israel, the US is exposing the true intent of the Palestinian leadership. Ironically though, it might bring peace that little bit closer. If the Israelis and the Palestinians can agree on Jerusalem first, almost everything else seems more achievable.

New Zealand under Murray McCully showed real weakness and lack of understanding of the situation when it came to co-sponsoring UNSC resolution 2334. New Zealand now has a chance to be a leader, as it did in 1947 with UN General Assembly Resolution 181 when it voted in favour of the creation of the Jewish State. It now has the opportunity to reinforce its belief in and support of the Jewish State by following the US’s lead in at least recognising West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Unfortunately though, New Zealand seems as far away from this as it ever has. Here’s praying for a small miracle!

Rob Berg
President, Zionist Federation of New Zealand

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