May 14 loomed large in 1948.
It was the date, according to the secular calendar, when the modern state of Israel was born. It was a time of ecstasy. Nearly 19 centuries had passed since the last chance for Jewish sovereignty was destroyed, but the prayers for a return to the ancestral land – and to Jerusalem, the heartbeat of the Jewish people – had never stopped through all the years of wandering, exile, and persecution.
Fast forward 70 years to May 14, 2018.
This day will be remembered, above all, for another celebration – the transfer of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to its rightful place in Jerusalem.
I am in Israel’s capital city to join in the festivities and express appreciation, on behalf of the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee (AJC), to the Trump administration for its bold decision.
It shouldn’t have had to be so bold. Every country ought to have the right to choose its own capital. But that basic political rule applies to each nation on earth, save one.
Think about it. The other 192 United Nations member states pick the site for their capital and it’s no one else’s business.
No doubt, diplomats assigned to Australia would prefer to be situated in Melbourne or Sydney, but the political choice was Canberra and that was that.
Nor did anyone utter a peep when Germany, following reunification, moved its capital from Bonn to Berlin, compelling governments around the world to spend a fortune to find new premises in Berlin.
The same goes for Kazakhstan, which decided to move its capital from Almaty to Astana in 1998, again disrupting the lives of every country that had a diplomatic post in the Central Asian nation.
Or take Nigeria, which chose to leave Lagos and create a new capital city, in distant Abudja, in 1991.
But Israel, and Israel alone, has found itself in the unique position of having its self-declared capital in Jerusalem, while other nations insist it’s in Tel Aviv, where they locate their embassies and residences.
Why? Well, we’re told, it’s because the original UN resolution recommending a two-state solution, adopted in November 1947, designated Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, or a city with no sovereign affiliation to the proposed Arab and Jewish states.
But the Arab world rejected the resolution in its entirety and declared war on Israel. Fortunately, Israel, though heavily outgunned and outmanned, prevailed. The western part of Jerusalem came under Israeli control. The offices of the president and prime minister, the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry were all established there.
For nearly seven decades, we have witnessed the anomaly of world leaders, whose countries reject Jerusalem as the capital, traveling precisely to that city to meet with Israeli presidents and prime ministers, to see Knesset members, and to hold dialogues in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
How patently absurd! We have also been treated to the assertion that Jerusalem’s status should not be determined until there is a final peace agreement. But that gives the Palestinians veto power over the process, even as they have rejected one proposal after another, including those that would have essentially divided Jerusalem into two parts.
Why should Israel’s capital be spurned by the international community ad infinitum because the Palestinian leadership refuses to make a deal? In the case of the US, the situation was a bit different. The rhetoric was often right, and there was even congressional legislation (Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995) to back it up, but the results never matched the words.
In 2000, for example, George W. Bush said: “Something will happen when I’m president. As soon as I take office, I will begin the process of moving the US embassy to the city Israel has chosen as its capital.”
For eight years, Bush had the chance to do just that. For eight years, however, he balked.
In 2008, Barack Obama declared that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
In the ensuing eight years, not only did Obama not move to fulfill his commitment, but he actually took a big step back.
When the White House Office of the Press Secretary released the full text of the president’s eulogy at the 2016 funeral of Shimon Peres, the words “Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, Israel” were included to indicate the location.
Shortly afterward, the White House pointedly deleted the word “Israel” from the text, in effect orphaning Jerusalem. It was no longer located in any country, even as Peres, with Obama present, was being buried in Jerusalem as an Israeli statesman.
In September 2016, Donald Trump pledged to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem.
Some observers understandably thought he was simply parroting his predecessors by making a campaign promise he had no intention of fulfilling.
But he meant what he said, which is why we are all gathering in Jerusalem to mark this historic occasion, to be followed two days later, it should be noted, by the Guatemalan decision to do the same.
In today’s hyper-partisan world, many who oppose the president on other issues are unlikely to give him any credit for this move. But we remain fiercely nonpartisan and call them as we see them.
Trump, as he said, simply recognized reality. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Period.
Does this move preclude a peace deal with the Palestinians? Absolutely not. In fact, perhaps in the long haul it accelerates the chances by signaling to their leadership that they don’t necessarily have the continued luxury of avoiding the peace table and rejecting one peace deal after another.
And does it prevent the possibility of a Palestinian state that includes part of Jerusalem within its borders, allowing the Palestinians to declare their own capital? Again, absolutely not.
May 14, 2018, is a special day in the life of Israel. And it’s a proud day to be an American friend of Israel.
The author is chief executive officer of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).