Russia recognizes west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated in a surprise announcement on Thursday.The announcement comes as US President Donald Trump’s administration is agonizing over whether to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would constitute recognizing west Jerusalem as the country’s capital. No other country in the world recognizes any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.The statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry reads, “We reaffirm our commitment to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of east Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
This is a sharp shift in Russian policy, which until now has formally held that Jerusalem should eventually be under a permanent international regime. The statement appears in English on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website.While officials in Jerusalem interpreted this to mean that recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will only come once east Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state, The Jerusalem Post has learned that Moscow intends for this recognition to go into effect immediately.Russia’s Ambassador to Israel Alexander Shein intends to meet with Foreign Ministry officials in the coming days to discuss Moscow’s decision and its ramifications. There is currently no intention, however, of moving Russia’s embassy to Jerusalem.Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the Foreign Ministry had an immediate reaction to the Russian statement, with ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon saying Israel is “studying the statement.” Though this would be the first recognition by any country of any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israel may be wary of applauding such a move, since it annexed all of Jerusalem in 1980 and deems the entire city – not just the western half – its capital.Headlined “Foreign Ministry statement regarding Palestinian-Israeli settlement,” the statement reads that Moscow “is deeply concerned about the situation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Palestine and Israel have not held political negotiations for nearly three years, and the situation on the ground has been deteriorating.”According to the statement, “The stalling of the Middle East peace process has created conditions for unilateral moves that undermine the potential for an internationally accepted solution to the Palestinian problem, under which two states – Israel and Palestine – could live in peace and security with each other and with their neighbors.”Moscow reaffirmed “its support for the two-state solution as an optimal option that meets the national interests of the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom have friendly relations with Russia, and the interests of all other countries in the region and the international community as a whole.”“The concrete parameters of a solution for the entire range of issues regarding the status of Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, should be coordinated at the direct talks between the parties involved. Using its opportunities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a co-sponsor of the peace process and an active member of the Middle East Quartet of international intermediaries, Russia will continue to provide assistance to the achievement of Israeli-Palestinian agreements,” the statement continues.The statement also said that Moscow will “focus on ensuring free access to Jerusalem’s holy places for all believers.”One diplomatic official said that the timing may be connected to Russia – in the wake of the chemical attacks in Syria – wanting to deflect criticism on being a chief enabler of President Bashar Assad. Likewise, the official said, it is probable that the statement is Moscow’s answer to the apparently rejuvenated US efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, and a signal that Russia is a relevant party that wants to play an active role in the process.
Netanyahu meets Putin in Moscow (credit: REUTERS)