The media is abuzz with reports that President-elect Donald Trump intends to honor his pre-election promise to implement the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act and move the body from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The law’s implementation has been deferred by successive presidents, most recently last week by President Obama.
Why has the act, which passed by massive majorities in the Senate (93-5) and House (374-37), remained a dead letter for 21 years?
Fear of enraging the Arab street and the Muslim world — most of which has reconciled neither with Israel’s existence nor even the peoplehood of the Jews — is the short answer.
The clamor and fixation on Jerusalem, which is quite recent in Muslim history, has led many to conclude that the city is holy to Islam, and therefore moving the US Embassy before a peace settlement is obtained would be premature.
As it happens, however, it is propaganda and a lie that Jerusalem is holy to Islam or central to Palestinian-Arab life. Though Jerusalem does possess Muslim shrines, including the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, history shows that the city itself holds no great significance for Islam.
Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Quran. References in the Quran and hadith to the “farthest mosque,” an allusion that some claim is to the Al Aqsa Mosque, clearly doesn’t refer to a mosque that didn’t exist in Muhammad’s day.
Indeed, the site of the biblical temples is called the Temple Mount, not the Mosque Mount, and –– in contrast to innumerable Palestinian Authority statements today –– was acknowledged as such for decades in the Jerusalem Muslim Supreme Council’s publication, A Brief Guide to the Haram Al-Sharif. This publication states on page four that “its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute.” (After 1954, all such references to the biblical temples disappeared from the publication).
During the illegal annexation and rule of the historic eastern half of Jerusalem by Jordan (1948-67), Amman remained the country’s capital, not Jerusalem.
Under Jordanian rule, Jews were entirely driven out; the Old City’s 58 synagogues were destroyed; and Jewish gravestones were used to pave roads and for latrines. Jewish access to the Western Wall was forbidden, in contravention of Article 8 of the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian armistice.
Indeed, the eastern half of the city became a backwater; infrastructure like water and sewage were scanty or non-existent and its Christian population, which was denied the right to purchase church property in the city, also declined. No Arab ruler, other than Jordan’s King Hussein, ever visited east Jerusalem. As Israeli elder statesman Abba Eban put it, “The secular delights of Beirut held more attraction.”
Significantly, neither the PLO’s National Charter nor the Fatah Covenant, drafted during Jordanian rule, even mention Jerusalem, let alone call for its establishment as a Palestinian capital.
This would never be obvious from the tenor and content of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim pronouncements on the city today.
Conversely, Jerusalem, the capital of the biblical Jewish kingdoms, is the site of three millennia of Jewish habitation — hence the “Jerusalem 3000” celebrations initiated by the government of Yitzhak Rabin.
The holiest of Judaism’s four holy cities, Jerusalem is mentioned 669 times in the Bible and alluded to in countless prayers. Major Jewish rituals, including the conclusion of the Passover Seder and Yom Kippur service, end with the age-old affirmation, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem is the only city in the world in which Jews have formed a majority since the 1880s. Today, Jerusalem, in addition to being home to Judaism’s greatest sanctuaries, is the seat of the Knesset, the Supreme Court, the National Library and the Hebrew University. Its population is two-thirds Jewish.
And it was only under unified Israeli rule since 1967 that the city as a whole has been revitalized, enjoyed stunning growth and, at last, full freedom of religion for its mosaic of faiths — precisely what would be threatened by its re-division, as is already obvious in the Christian exodus from Palestinian-controlled Gaza and Bethlehem.
Transferring the US Embassy to Jerusalem would acknowledge the reality of the city as Israel’s capital and ultimately help consign to oblivion the fiction that Israel can be detached from it. Whatever the contours of any future peace settlement, there is no good reason for President-elect Trump to defer implementing the Jerusalem Embassy Act any longer.
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establisment of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).