President Donald J. Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital city of the State of Israel on December 6, 2017. The president acted in accordance with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 which authorized the U.S. State Department to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, since passed by the U.S. Congress, the 22-year-old law has never been implemented by an American president due to national security concerns but Trump did so today.
President Trump also announced that Vice President Michael Pence would travel soon to meet with disgruntled Arab leaders to assure them of America’s continued commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
This year (2017) is in fact a significant year, in terms of historical anniversaries concerning Israel, America’s most important ally in the Middle East. Anniversaries are an ideal way of reflecting upon the impact of events caused by critical decisions and their relevance to today’s world:
- 100 years ago, on December 11, 1917, the British Empire conquered Jerusalem after half a millennium of Ottoman domination and issued the Balfour Declaration, promising to establish a Jewish homeland in the Middle East.
- 70 years ago, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted on the Partition Plan for Palestine which proposed a Jewish state in Palestine, setting forth the foundation for the birth of Israel, the following year in 1948.
- 50 years ago, during the Six Day from June 5-10 1967, Israel recaptured all of Jerusalem.
These three historical events are all instrumental in both the creation of modern Israel and the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict which at its core concerns the status of Jerusalem.
Providence journal’s Spring 2017 issue commemorating 50 years since Israel’s recapture of Jerusalem includes an interview with the former Israeli ambassador to the United States discussing this monumental event in greater detail. Find this and more fascinating articles from Providence about the Six Day War online:
- Six Days of War: An Interview with Michael Oren
- Jerusalem United (Forever?): The Hopeful, Unsure, Legacy of the Six Day War
- What You Should Know About Jerusalem
- How Should Christians View Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital?
Furthermore, Chelsen Vicari — Evangelical Programs Director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) — recently reported on findings by Lifeway Research that Christian support for Israel in the U.S. is not as strong as it was a generation or so ago.
Although Christian Zionism originated in Europe a century ago, that support has drastically declined over time. This is due in part to the public perception that Israel is at fault for repeated failed outcomes in the peace process negotiations. Christian Zionism on the other hand remains strong in the United States, which is the strongest ally of Israel with bipartisan support in Congress.
However, some of that support has eroded. This became evident most recently in former President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran concluded with the U.N. P5+1 in 2015. Then in 2016, the Obama administration joined onto U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, condemning Israel over settlements in East Jerusalem.
Among most millennials, support for Israel has declined. Perhaps this connects to the narrative perpetuated in the press which portrays Palestinians solely as victims, regardless of their increased terrorist activity. A lot of times, the problem is that a broader historical context is missing in that perspective. By studying the tragedy of the Holocaust or even Israel’s subsequent struggle for survival in the series of wars it faced against Arabs in 1948, 1967 and 1973, Israel’s misunderstood story seems not to be as appreciated as it once was in the political context of its present-day concerns over nuclear Iran or other issues involving the Palestinians.
Today’s Israel-Palestinian dispute can be traced back to the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine or U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 which proposed both a Jewish and Arab state. The Jews accepted the plan even though Jerusalem was to be governed by the UN, while the Arabs rejected the plan and initiated what was to become Israel’s War for Independence after May 1948. The war was initiated by the Arab League, including Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, which sought to annihilate the newly formed Jewish state. Nevertheless, Israel prevailed militarily even without much support from the West. This victory is viewed as a tragedy for the Arabs, but this ignores the fact that they ultimately provoked the war.
Likewise, when considering the outbreak of the Six Day War in 1967 and subsequent Yom Kippur War in 1973, Israel was threatened once again by its Arab neighbors with overwhelming force. But despite the odds, Israel prevailed.
In June 1967, Israel was able to stop Egypt and Syria from invading its land through preemptive action. On top of it all, Israel decisively defeated Jordan and reclaimed the Old City of Jerusalem. The capture of Jerusalem was a military triumph for Israel and therefore justified. This is often called “an annexation” and considered as an “illegal occupation” under international law without considering the entire context of the war in which this played out. In fact, Israel went on to give back captured land to Egypt in return for a peace treaty, the only one signed by an Arab neighbor.
If the Arab-Israel conflict was fought over land, its deeper origins go back further to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire which controlled the land since the end of the Crusades. Throughout World War I, the British Empire defeated the Ottomans. Following the war, the British acquired all the Arab territories together with the French Empire, then subdivided the land in the controversial Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.
On November 2 1917, the Balfour Declaration was issued revealing the British plan for post-war Palestine as a Jewish homeland, fulfilling the vision of Zionism. The Foreign Office issued this declaration right before the Battle for Jerusalem, which culminated on December 11 with Britain’s military victory over the Ottoman Turks, resulting in the European reconquest of the Holy Land.
Since 1967, Jerusalem has been in practice the capital city as recognized by Israel back in 1949. No matter the numerous political arguments made within the U.S. or all over the world over regarding the justification for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the reality is that the city has already been acquired over 50 years ago. So, in that historic context it is of great symbolism that the United States should show solidarity in recognition of an already existing reality concerning Jerusalem. Furthermore, it is of almost prophetic significance that this symbolic recognition should occur in 2017, throughout which historic anniversaries of the most important turning points in Israel’s history, were celebrated.