When my father served in the British Army during World War II, he witnessed some of the Nazi atrocities and remained in the Army after the war, posted in Jerusalem, the headquarters of the British Mandate of Palestine. He always regretted not being able to do more to help bedraggled Jewish refugees arriving in British Palestine with hope to immigrate there. Sadly, many were arrested and interned on Cyprus and some were even sent back to Germany.
So it was with interest that I saw, in a break with decades of U.S. policy, President Trump upheld a promise he made in 2016 and made the bold decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Expressions of outrage have inevitably followed the news, but this is actually one of the most sensible things Trump has done in his presidency.
For all intents and purposes, the city of Jerusalem is already the capital of Israel. Its parliament, the Knesset, is based there. So too is its supreme court, along with most government departments. To Israel, it is the capital.
In this respect, Jerusalem’s relation to Israel is similar to the relationship between Washington, D.C., and the U.S. or, indeed, London and the United Kingdom.
The only difference, of course, is that unlike D.C. or London, Jerusalem is not internationally recognized as Israel's capital.
If the shoe were on the other foot, how would we feel if the rest of the world refused to recognize London as a capital, despite the fact that governmental institutions are based there?
Currently, no country has its embassy in Jerusalem, with most being located in Tel Aviv, Israel’s financial center.
The reason for this is purely political, as both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim ownership over historical East Jerusalem.
The dispute over Jerusalem’s status is understandable, but there is no practical reason why the U.S. and the U.K. should continue to pretend that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital, particularly in light of the fact that Jerusalem is also much larger than Tel Aviv anyway.
In the almost 70 years since the creation of Israel from the end of the British Mandate that my father knew, the country has been a phenomenal success story.
Israel is a beacon of freedom in a part of the world where so few enjoy even basic human rights.
All Israelis are entitled to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and a free press. Israel is also the only country in the Middle East where gay and lesbian people can live without fear of persecution or death.
One of the great ironies about Israel is that, despite being a predominantly Jewish state, Arabs have more rights there than anywhere else in the region.
Like Britain and America, Israel is a full democracy. Indeed, many of its political institutions were modeled on Britain’s. It has a parliamentary system with a prime minister and a ceremonial president as head of state. Its free press enjoys an independence unheard of in many countries around the world and have often called out bent politicians who have subsequently been imprisoned on corruption charges by the Israeli authorities. Imagine that happening in many other countries.
Similarly, Israel has separation of powers between the executive, legislature, and the judiciary and its law borrows heavily from the common law used in the U.S. and U.K.
This is not about taking sides or ignoring Israel’s faults, including the building of illegal settlements. The fact is, the only path towards peace has to involve a two-state solution — a safe and secure state for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
However, it is also important to treat our friends with respect. Israel is one of our strongest allies, not to mention a key partner in the fight against terrorism.
There has been much brouhaha surrounding Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. But in practical terms, it will change little in the wider Israel-Palestine conflict. Yes, Hamas has declared an Intifada — but Israel is well used to that. It is nothing new.
The U.S. is already seen as heavily biased towards Israel by many in the Middle East — what difference will moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem make to that perception?
Similarly, U.K. recognition of Jerusalem is not going to suddenly alter deep-seated grievances or imperil the peace process — mainly because there isn’t a peace process right now.
Many Palestinian leaders have yet to accept that Israel isn’t going away. As long as the likes of terror organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah are hell-bent on driving Israel into the sea, there will never be peace.
Ultimately, however, rightfully recognizing Jerusalem’s place as Israel’s capital is simply not as big as people think it is. And if we wanted to be clever, we could all claim the move is to where the Israeli government, judiciary, and parliament are based: West Jerusalem. Not the disputed Old City in East Jerusalem.
While there has been much to criticize Trump on so far, this isn’t one of them. Even if the U.S. government hesitates and decides not to move its embassy from Tel Aviv, the British should set an example and do it anyway. We owe Israel that.
Michael Fabricant (@Mike_Fabricant) is a British member of parliament, a former vice chairman of the governing Conservative Party, and a former government whip.