Why is Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?

  • Debbie Lord, Cox Media Group National Content Desk
Updated Dec 06, 2017

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move the U.S. embassy to that city in the near future.

Trump’s decision is likely to incite unrest in the region where for more than 70 years most countries have stayed out of the dispute over who owns one of the most significant religious areas in the world.

Why are some saying the move will cause chaos in the region? Here’s a look at what the decision could mean.

What happened Wednesday?

The president declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and announced plans to move the US embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The move will not take place immediately.

In addition, Trump reasserted his commitment to supporting a two-state solution if Israel and Palestine can come to that agreement. 

Why is that causing so much commotion?

Jerusalem is the center of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Israel has called Jerusalem its undivided capital, while Palestine claims the eastern half of the city as its capital.

In 1947, the United Nations worked to create a homeland for Jews in the Middle East with the idea that Jerusalem would be a separate “international city.” However, the war to establish an Israeli state led to the city being divided.

In 1949, the “Green Line” (a border created through negotiations at the end of the war) was established, giving Israel the western half of Jerusalem and Jordan the eastern half.

That arrangement lasted for nearly 20 years until the Six-Day War in 1967 at which time Israel occupied East Jerusalem and has kept it since then. 

In 1980, Israel passed a law stating Jerusalem was the united capital of Israel.

While Israel claims Jerusalem, the rest of the world has refrained from assigning capital status to either side until and unless Israel and Palestine can come to an agreement on who owns what. Resolving that issue is perhaps the most difficult part of finding a peaceful end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The United States keeps its embassy in Tel Aviv, like most other countries. Also, like other countries, the U.S. has a consulate in Jerusalem.

If the United States declares Jerusalem the capital of Israel, it will be the first country to officially do so since the country’s inception in 1948. Compounding the issue is that Jerusalem is home to key sacred sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Why hasn’t the embassy moved before?

The United States has not moved the embassy to Jerusalem because for 70 years countries around the world have stayed out of the conflict over who owns the city.

In 1989, however, the U.S. began leasing a plot of land in Jerusalem that was to be the spot where a new embassy was to be built. The 99-year lease costs the United States $1 a year. The land remains undeveloped. There is a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.

In 1995, Congress passed a law that required the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, saying if Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, then the U.S. should respect that.

Since that law passed, every U.S. president, citing security concerns, has declined to move the embassy and has signed a presidential waiver to keep it in Tel Aviv.

Who would be in favor of the move?

Israel would welcome a declaration from the United States saying Jerusalem belongs to Israel. 

Who would be against it?

Palestine would have the most to lose if Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital. In May 2017, the Palestinian group Hamas proposed the formation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. 

The announcement would anger the rest of the Arab world as well. Saudi Arabia has called the idea a “flagrant provocation to Muslims.” 

A senior Palestinian official said Wednesday that the decision means “the peace process is finished” because Washington “has already pre-empted the outcome,” The Associated Press reported.

On Tuesday, US personnel and their families were ordered to avoid visiting Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank. Palestinian factions have called for a “day of rage” over the announcement.

What is the reaction from the rest of the world?

Here is the reaction from some world leaders to Trump’s expected announcement. (From the Associated Press)

Sources: The Associated Press; The BBC; Reuters; history.com