The media has been abuzz with reports that President-elect Donald Trump intends to honor his pre-election promise to act on the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act – whose implementation has been deferred by six monthly waivers invoked by successive presidents, most recently last week by President Obama – and move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Why has the Embassy Act, passed by massive majorities in the Senate (93-5) and House (374-37), remained a dead letter for 21 years? Fear of enraging the Arab street and the Muslim world, most of which has neither reconciled itself to Israel’s existence nor even the peoplehood of the Jews and thus the Jewish immemorial association and claim to the city, is the short answer.
This clamor and fixation on Jerusalem, quite recent in Muslim history, has led many to conclude that Jerusalem is holy to Islam; therefore any US move ahead of a peace settlement is premature.
As it happens, however, it is a propaganda lie that Jerusalem is holy to Islam or central to Palestinian Arab life. Though possessing Muslim shrines, including the Dome of the Rock and al-Aksa mosques, the city itself holds no great significance for Islam, as history shows.
Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Koran, nor is it the direction in which Muslims turn to pray. References in the Koran and hadith to the ‘farthest mosque,’ an allusion to which al-Aksa Mosque is named, and which has sometimes been invoked to connect Islam to Jerusalem since its earliest days, clearly doesn’t refer to a mosque which didn’t exist in Muhammad’s day.
Indeed, the site of the biblical temples is called Temple Mount, not the Mosque Mount, and – in contrast to innumerable Palestinian Authority statements today – was acknowledged as such for decades in the Jerusalem Muslim Supreme Council’s publication, A Brief Guide to the Haram Al-Sharif,’ which states on p. 4 that ‘Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute.”
(After 1954, all such references to the biblical temples disappeared from this publication.) During the illegal annexation and rule of the historic eastern half of Jerusalem by Jordan (1948-67), Amman remained the country’s capital, not Jerusalem.
Under Jordanian rule, Jews were entirely driven out, the Old City’s 58 synagogues destroyed, and Jewish gravestones used to pave roads and latrines. Jewish access to the Western Wall was forbidden, in contravention of Article 8 of the 1949 Israeli/Jordanian armistice.
Indeed, the eastern half of the city became a backwater town, with infrastructure like water and sewerage scanty or non-existent, and its Christian population, denied the right to purchase church property in the city, also declined. No Arab ruler, other than Jordan’s King Hussein, ever visited. As Israeli elder statesman Abba Eban put it, “the secular delights of Beirut held more attraction.”
Significantly, neither the PLO’s National Charter nor the Fatah Covenant, drafted during Jordanian rule, even mention Jerusalem, let alone call for its establishment as a Palestinian capital.
This would never be obvious from the tenor and content of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim pronouncements on the city today, which are as emphatic as to the Arab, Muslim and Palestinian primacy of the city as they are in denying its Jewish provenance.
Conversely, Jerusalem, the capital of the biblical Jewish kingdoms, is the site of three millennia of Jewish habitation — hence the ‘Jerusalem 3000’ celebrations initiated by the government of Yitzhak Rabin.
The holiest of Judaism’s four holy cities, Jerusalem is mentioned 669 times in the Bible, and alluded to in countless prayers.
Major Jewish rituals, including the conclusion of the Passover Seder and Yom Kippur service, end with the age-old affirmation, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem is the only city in the world in which Jews have formed a majority since the 1880s. Today, in addition to being home to Judaism’s greatest sanctuaries, Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government, the Knesset, the Supreme Court, the National Library and the Hebrew University. Its population is twothirds Jewish.
It is only under unified Israeli rule since 1967 that the city as a whole has been revitalized, enjoyed stunning growth and also, at last, full freedom of religion for its mosaic of faiths – precisely what would be threatened by its redivision, as is already obvious in the Christian exodus from Palestinian-controlled Gaza and Bethlehem.
Transferring the US Embassy to Jerusalem would acknowledge the reality of the city as Israel’s capital, and ultimately help consign to oblivion the fiction that Israel can be detached from it. Whatever the contours of any future peace settlement, there is no good reason for President-elect Trump to defer implementing the Jerusalem Embassy Act and move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr.
Daniel Mandel is director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy, and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establishment of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).