Jerusalem: The Capital of Israel

Summary: The U.S. Congress and both political parties have long recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—and urged moving the American embassy there. Yesterday’s official recognition of this reality is a long-overdue step by the executive branch. In his announcement, President Trump reasserted his commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. His action in no way precludes future negotiations over the city’s final status, borders, or the goal of two states for two peoples. The administration should quickly complete the necessary planning to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Congress has long recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

  • In 1990, the House of Representatives and Senate overwhelmingly adopted bipartisan resolutions (H.Con.Res. 290 and S.Con.Res. 106) that acknowledge Jerusalem “is and should remain the capital of the State of Israel.”

  • In 1995, Congress overwhelmingly enacted the bipartisan Jerusalem Embassy Act to require the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while permitting the president to waive this requirement if deemed necessary for U.S. national security. For the past 18 years, successive administrations have exercised this waiver. 

  • In 2002, Congress overwhelmingly adopted the FY 2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act that requires all government-funded documents that list countries and their capital cities to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

  • Congress has repeatedly reaffirmed its support for the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Most recently, the Senate in June 2017 overwhelmingly adopted S.Res. 176 which “reaffirms the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995…and calls upon the President and all United States officials to abide by its provisions.”

The Jewish connection to Jerusalem runs deep.

  • For more than three millennia, the city has played a central role in the lives of Jews throughout the world. There are more than 800 mentions of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible, and thousands of references to the city throughout more than 2,000 years of rabbinic literature. 
  • One of Jerusalem’s hills was the setting for the famous biblical story in which the patriarch Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Hundreds of years later, after King David made Jerusalem Israel’s capital, his son Solomon built the first Jewish Temple there; today, this location is known as the Temple Mount. 

  • The Temple Mount remains Judaism's most sacred site, serving as the central focus of Jewish veneration and prayer; the Western Wall (Kotel) is the last remaining vestige of the outer wall of the Temple.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital conveys an important message.

  • Recognition that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, along with initiating a process to move the U.S. embassy there, sends a strong message: America will not allow the Palestinians to hold U.S. policy hostage to their unwillingness to resume negotiations with Israel.

  • Recognition is an important rejection of those in the international community, like UNESCO, who promote the anti-Semitic canard that denies the 3,000-year, continuous Jewish connection to its holiest city, Jerusalem.

  • Recognition does not preclude negotiations on the future of Jerusalem. Israelis and Palestinians agreed in the Oslo Accords that Jerusalem is a final-status issue. Recognition and relocating the U.S. embassy do not preclude future negotiations between the parties over the city’s final status and borders.

  • The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem will likely be located in the portion of Jerusalem that has been in Israeli hands since 1948. All reasonable parties accept that this area will be part of Israel in any peace agreement. Such an embassy move should not be an obstacle to negotiations.

  • Israel has consistently honored the Muslim connection to Jerusalem, taking Muslim sentiments into account at all times with respect to the holy places.

  • While expressing its position on Jerusalem, the United States recognized that any agreement on the final status of Jerusalem must be reached directly by the parties.

  • The United States has previously stated its views on other final-status issues—such as President Obama’s recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, President Clinton’s parameters, and the Bush-Sharon letter. At the same time, the United States has always indicated it would support a negotiated solution by the involved parties. 

Israel maintains Jerusalem for the benefit of all faiths.

  • In 1967, Israel reunified Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. When Jordan controlled Jerusalem’s Old City from 1948 to 1967, Jews of all nationalities were denied access to the city’s sacred sites.

  • After 1967, Israel formally and legally removed all barriers and divisions within Jerusalem, reunited the city, and allowed free movement for Jews, Muslims and Christians. 

  • In a gesture of peace, Israel allowed Muslim religious authorities to retain administrative control over the Temple Mount—recognizing the religious significance of the site to Muslims.

  • Today, Jerusalem is the vibrant, multicultural, undivided capital of Israel. Christians, Muslims and Jews from all over the world can visit their holy sites.