Jerusalem: Two Capitals for Two Peoples

Instead of unilateral declarations favoring one side, the goal must be West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state

An Israeli flag flutters on the roof of a buiding of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem opposite the Dome of the Rock (C) in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, on December 5, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump has told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Even though Trump hasn’t officially declared it, the reports about his intent have riled the Arab and Muslim world.

The Palestinian leadership, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey (which has even threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Israel), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (which includes 57 Muslim countries), and even Saudi Arabia have expressed their opposition to such a move, along with warnings about the dangerous ramifications of such a declaration, including an outbreak of violence in the Middle East. The Palestinians are declaring three days of rage in the West Bank starting Wednesday.

The opposition has transcended the Arab world and sparked a wave of warnings from senior politicians and diplomats around the world, including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and European Union Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini. Twenty-five former Israeli ambassadors, academics and peace activists have sent an urgent letter to the U.S. chief negotiator in the region, Jason Greenblatt, sharing their concerns with him.

The opposition and concerns are understandable. Jerusalem is holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and its status is hotly disputed as a core element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unilateral declarations on its status, outside a diplomatic accord, convey an ignoring of Palestinian aspirations. They are thus expected to harm the chances for peace and spark opposition, which could take violent forms. Such a declaration would also diminish the status of the United States as an honest broker.

It’s not clear how Trump’s ambition to resolve the long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians meshes with unilateral steps favoring the interests of one side, especially regarding such a central and volatile issue. If Trump deems it urgent to fulfill his promise to transfer the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, or at least recognize the city as Israel’s capital, it would be better to do so alongside an equal recognition of Palestinian aspirations for the city.

American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the transfer of the embassy aren’t problems in and of themselves. On the contrary, a two-state solution requires the division of Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians. It requires its transition from a de facto divided city serving as Israel’s capital into a formally divided city, with West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. When that happens, not only the United States but all countries could recognize the two capitals and be invited to open their embassies in them.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel