Image: Shutterstock, Inc/Sean Pavone

Here is why the issue is so controversial.

  14 February 2017 18:50

President Donald Trump has said he might move America's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Washington Wednesday, here is why the issue is so controversial.

Why do both sides see Jerusalem as their capital?

Jews argue that Jerusalem has been their capital for 3,000 years, citing religious and historical connections.

The Holy City was the ancient capital of the Jewish King David in the 10th century BC and later of the Hasmonean Jewish dynasty from the 2nd century BC.

Since the destruction of the two Jewish temples, the latter in 70 AD, and the scattering of the Jewish people, religious leaders have longed for a return to Jerusalem.

The Palestinians also see Jerusalem as the capital of the state to which they aspire, again citing religious and historical importance.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City is where Muslims believe Mohammed ascended to heaven. It is the third holiest place in Islam after Mecca and Medina.

Why is its status so controversial?

Following mass Jewish immigration during and after World War II, the United Nations proposed dividing up British-mandate Palestine.

The partition plan, approved by the UN General Assembly on Nov. 29 1947, proposed a Jewish State, an Arab State and Jerusalem under international supervision. It was accepted by the Jewish leaders but rejected by their Arab counterparts.

Following the departure of the British and the first Israeli-Arab war, the State of Israel was created in 1948 with west Jerusalem as its self-declared capital. The city's eastern part remained under Jordanian control.

After the occupation and later annexation of east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel declared "reunited" Jerusalem its capital.

A key Israeli law adopted in 1980 called Jerusalem the "complete and united" capital of Israel.

This decision was not recognised by the international community, which considers east Jerusalem to be occupied.

When a Palestinian state was proclaimed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1988, Jerusalem was designated as its future capital.

Are other embassies in Jerusalem?

In short, no. Before the Israeli parliament passed the bill annexing east Jerusalem in 1980, 13 countries had embassies in west Jerusalem: Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, the Netherlands, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Following the annexation and international anger, these countries moved their missions to Tel Aviv.

Costa Rica and El Salvador re-established their embassies in Jerusalem from 1984 to 2006.

Currently no country has an embassy there, and it is not internationally recognised as Israel's capital.

The Palestinians argue that to do so would destroy hopes of a two-state solution.

What is the US position?

In 1995, Congress passed a law that "Jerusalem should be recognised as the capital of the State of Israel" and the embassy moved no later than May 31 1999.

Since then, the relocation has been postponed every six months by different presidents under pressure from the Palestinians and their allies.

However, the 1995 law does mean that US official documents refer to Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

While campaigning, Trump promised to move the embassy and a statement in September said his administration would abide by the "long-standing Congressional mandate to recognise Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel".

But on Friday, he cut a more cautious tone in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, saying he was "studying" what was not an "easy decision".

© Agence France-Presse


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