The US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; learn all about the issue.


Where is Jerusalem?

  • Jerusalem is a city in the Middle East, located on a plateau in the Judaean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea.
  • Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital, as the State of Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there while the State of Palestine ultimately foresees the city as its seat of power; however, neither claim is widely recognized internationally.
  • The Old City became a World Heritage Site in 1981, and is on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Modern Jerusalem has grown far beyond the Old City’s boundaries.

What is the significance of Jerusalem?

  • The city is the home to holy sites revered by Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
  • It is home to the Temple Mount, the holiest site in the world for Jews, who come from around the world to pray at the Western Wall, the last remaining supporting wall of the biblical temple.
  • Muslims revere the same plateau as the Noble Sanctuary, where the Al-Aqsa mosque stands as the third-holiest place in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.
  • Not far away in Jerusalem’s Old City is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians revere as the site of Jesus’s tomb.
  • Since the creation of the modern state of Israel, both the Israeli leadership and their Arab neighbours have laid claim to the historic city.

When did the modern dispute emerge?

  • When the United Nations voted in 1947 to divide British-ruled Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, it didn’t want either side controlling Jerusalem, due to its religious resonance.
  • Instead, it set aside the city as an international zone to be administered by a UN council of trustees.
  • Arab states rejected the UN partition plan for Palestine and launched a war against the Jewish state. The Jordanian military invaded to occupy the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem.
  • The war left Israel in control of west Jerusalem, where the bulk of the Jewish population lived.
  • In 1967, Israel captured east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War and formally annexed those portions of the city to form one municipality under Israeli law.
  • In 1980, its parliament passed a law declaring “complete and united” Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. Most nations rejected the move.
  • The United Nations, which regards East Jerusalem as occupied, took the position that the city’s status is disputed and in need of resolution through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.


Why is it in the news now?

  • In a remarkable overhaul of American diplomacy that is likely to spur unrest in the region, President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
  • President Trump’s decision fulfils a campaign promise and will please Republican conservatives and evangelicals who make up a sizeable portion of his domestic support.
  • The President is taking a novel stand against a deep-rooted conflict that is centuries in the making.
  • After less than a year in the Oval Office, Mr Trump has dramatically reworked a consequential position on an issue that encompasses the history, politics, and religions that dominate the Middle East.

What will be the consequences of the US recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?

  • Potential to inflame tensions: President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and start preparations for the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city, has the potential to further inflame tensions across the Middle East.
  • Chances of violence: The decision might initiate a new spate of violence in the region. Tensions over the city’s sovereignty and religion have led to violence before.
  • Peace process in danger: As the status of Jerusalem is central to the peace process, the Arab leaders have said that calling the city Israel’s capital is likely to hurt Middle East peace negotiations. The issue of final status of Jerusalem was deemed to be one of the thorniest issues in the Oslo peace process in the 1990s. It was envisaged to be circumnavigated, dealt with only at the stage of “permanent status negotiations”, once all other issues between the state of Israel and the Palestinians were resolved.
  • Effect on Palestine: Palestinians say Washington is abandoning its leading role as a peace mediator. President Trump’s decision ignores the significance of Jerusalem in Palestinian national identity and national aspirations. For Palestinians, material anchors of identity such as territory, governance and self-determination are continually being eroded by the harsh realities of Israeli occupation, the blockade of Gaza and deteriorating cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Therefore, Jerusalem is a city dense in symbolism in the Palestinian national imagination.
  • The announcement of the embassy move is likely to cause a wave of resentment among Palestinians in the occupied territories and the city itself.
  • It can destabilise a Palestinian authority already deprived of legitimacy and an array of fragile Arab regimes.
  • Iran: It is likely to accentuate the enmity between Israel and Iran. Iran perceives such a move as a “violation of Islamic sanctities”.
  • Potential of radicalization:  It could further stoke the flames of anti-Western Islamic movements in the Muslim world and the West alike, which have always put Jerusalem and the Palestinian issue in a central position.

India’s take on the issue

  • The development is seen to leave India, friends with both Palestine and Israel, in a sort of diplomatic dilemma.
  • The Foreign Ministry of India issued a statement indicating that India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by India’s views and interests, and not determined by any third country.
  • India has traditionally supported the Palestinian cause and opened diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. It has since balanced ties with Arab countries where it has a sizeable diaspora presence and deep energy ties on the one hand, and Israel on the other.
  • Since 1992, New Delhi’s ties with Tel Aviv have been steadily warming and this year, PM Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel- opening a new chapter in bilateral relations.
  • India is readying for a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January as the two countries mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment diplomatic relations.
  • Earlier this year, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited India,PM Modi stressed on India’s support for an independent Palestinian state in a joint statement.
  • In a letter to the UN recently, PM Modi said India hopes for the early realization of a sovereign independent and united Palestinian state coexisting peacefully with Israel.
  • In the letter on the occasion of Palestine Solidarity Day, PM Modi reiterated India’s “steadfast support” to the Palestinian cause while recalling India’s development assistance to Palestine.

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