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US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrive for Trump to deliver remarks recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the White House in Washington, US December 6, 2017.(Photo by: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)
Analysis: Legal limbo… Jerusalem is yours, except, perhaps, parts that might not be
Anyone who says the whole world disputes Israel’s 1981 annexation is no longer correct.
No question – President Donald Trump empowered Israel’s legal claims over Jerusalem in a definitive way with his speech on Wednesday.

The most powerful country in the world now officially backs those claims to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Anyone who says the whole world disputes Israel’s 1981 annexation is no longer correct.

And Trump even went farther than the original rumors suggested.

Originally it was thought he would merely make a statement of recognition but indefinitely delay moving the US Embassy, creating a very odd situation indeed.

For a country to recognize a capital and yet keep its embassy elsewhere, without planning to ever move it, would have been favorable to Israel but also would have created a first-ever super-limbo legal position, according to Northwestern University professor and Kohelet Policy Forum legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich.

Kontorovich said there is one other disputed and split capital city situation: Cyprus’s capital Nicosia. But unlike in Israel, many countries there keep embassies on Cyprus’s side of Nicosia while the world ignores North Nicosia as Turkish-occupied Cyprus. Meanwhile, those countries maintain their embassies in Turkey in that country’s capital Ankara and the world doesn’t bat an eyelash.
With Israel, countries balance a very strange legal limbo. They officially have embassies in Tel Aviv but are perfectly willing to do business with the Israeli government in Jerusalem.

Trump went further than the rumors. Law – even a super-limbo-unbalanced version of it – can be impacted by facts on the ground. While Trump did not set a date for moving the embassy, he made it clear there will be a physical move and a large new US building in Jerusalem and that the process will start soon – even if it takes time.

And yet he also managed to continue the legal limbo.

All of this has been more about legal perception than about resolving legal rights.

Trump did nothing to resolve those legal rights.

He said the parties must still resolve where the specific lines of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem will finally be decided.

Also, it appears that other than a few non-influential countries, most of the world will ignore Trump’s example and stick to their embassy-in-Tel Aviv status quo. This undermines how much Trump’s speech can help Israeli legal claims.

So while he has from the US point of view eliminated the scenario in which Israel needed to get western Jerusalem recognized as its capital at the end of peace negotiations, he left untouched the heart of Israel’s legal rights – whether Jerusalem will be split with the Palestinians still very much on the table.
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