President Trump’s declaration that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel succeeded in not only angering Arab Muslim countries, but also the vast majority of European countries.
“Jerusalem is certainly not united today,” wrote Daniel Hannan, a British member of the European Parliament in a recent Washington Examiner column, explaining that “an opportunity to use the embassy move to push the peace process along appears to have been squandered – which really is a pity.”
I will start by saying that the political and religious situation in Jerusalem is indeed rife with problems. But as strange as it may sound, the current situation, in which Israel is sovereign over the entirety of Jerusalem, must be preserved.
A brief history lesson: According to UN Resolution 181, Jerusalem was to be a city under UN control. The Jews accepted the decision, but the Arabs did not — they launched a war in which they outnumbered and threatened to destroy the Jews. When the war concluded, not only did Israel not lose, but the Arabs themselves caused a terrible refugee problem. Jerusalem was divided into two parts, its eastern half annexed by Jordan and its western half becoming part of Israel. The world accepted the situation as is.
For 19 years, Jerusalem was divided. The Arabs denied Jews access to holy sites, and Jewish graves were desecrated as Jordan uprooted the gravestones for military use. The international community did not answer Israel’s complaints over these issues. Who today can promise Israelis that the international community will take their complaints seriously if the city is divided again?
Then came the Six-Day War in June of 1967. Israel begged King Hussein, the ruler of Jordan, not to enter the war. He ignored Israel’s appeals and lost the war, and Israel liberated the entire territory. Jerusalem was united under Israeli sovereignty.
Let’s leave for a moment the fact that there is no case in the world that a country that started a war and lost territory as a result to be rewarded with its return. The separation of Jerusalem would create a situation in which the division of Berlin would look tame in comparison. Today, members of all religions can pray freely in the city’s holy places. The Netanyahu government believes that this situation must be preserved, and is working to do so despite the fact that the Palestinian leadership is trying to instigate provocations. At the same time, the Abbas government is trying with all its strength to prevent Jews and Christians from accessing holy places under the Palestinian Authority’s control. Who can guarantee that the situation would be different if Jerusalem were divided?
The experience of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, which uprooted 8,000 settlers, is further proof that Israel and the world must not risk dividing Jerusalem. After Gaza disengagement, Hamas won elections there; today, the possibility of Hamas rising to power in the Palestinian Authority remains a realistic scenario. Since the disengagement, rocket fire from Gaza into Israel has not stopped. The international community has promised Israel that it will provide guarantees to ensure its security if Israel withdrawals from the territories. Since 2009, Israel has been forced to launch three military operations to defend its citizens against Hamas’ terror regime in the Gaza Strip, yet instead of guaranteeing Israel’s security, the same international community that demands Israel withdrawal disproportionately focuses their criticism on Israel.
Something to further consider is the treatment of religious minorities in areas under Palestinian control. In Gaza, Hamas is carrying out a sort of ethnic cleansing against Christians. In Bethlehem, after 20 years of Palestinian Authority rule, the Christian majority has become an insignificant minority. Palestinian leaders have made statements suggesting that the situation will not be different under a divided Jerusalem. For an example, see the words of Abbas Zaki, a recognized Palestinian leader.
A united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is in the interest of not only the West, but the entire world. Trump’s declaration was not a mistake. Rather, he did the right thing that other presidents have promised but never went through with. A Cypriot friend whom I invited to tour the Old City with me implored me to never let Jerusalem become a divided capital like Nicosia. I reassured him, saying that, “as long as it depends on us and our friends, it will not happen.”
Eli Hazan is the Foreign Affairs Director of the Likud Party in Israel.
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