How long do you think there has been a Jewish temple on Temple Mount in Jerusalem?
That is a question I like to ask when I’m leading a discussion with Israelis or Jews from other countries. The most common response is, “Two thousand years.” But that’s actually the answer to a separate question: how long ago did the Romans destroy the Second Temple, beginning the Jewish exile?
, there was a temple on that site for nearly 1,000 years before the Roman destruction. That would mean that for about 3,000 years, Jerusalem has been the centre of the Jewish people: a physical centre when a temple was standing, and a centre for prayer and longing from afar after the Jews were dispersed around the globe. Every year, at the very end of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, and at the end of the Passover Seder, Jews recite, “.”
We would welcome a recognition of reality
Then the Jews came back. In the 19th century, Jews began building neighbourhoods and settling outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. Then the ended the short Jordanian rule over the Old City and united Jerusalem under Israeli jurisdiction. But this return has proved more controversial internationally. Even the United States, Israel’s closest ally, has not recognized the city as our capital even though our government has been based there .
President Trump will reportedly soon change that, and even announce that he is from Tel Aviv. “Next year, an American Embassy in Jerusalem” was never in our prayers, but it’s still something we welcome as a sign of support — and a recognition of reality.
Not that a statement from an American president will actually change Israelis’ commitment to Jerusalem. This is our capital and it always will be. It was taken away from the Jewish people by force. It was recaptured by force. If necessary, it will be preserved under Israel’s jurisdiction by force, too.
This is our capital and it always will be. It was taken away from the Jewish people by force
Israel will, of course, embrace Washington’s change of tune on Jerusalem. But the truth is, Trump’s announcement is not going to change as much as you might expect. History shows that: last week, the world marked the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ 1947 vote on the , when the international community formally adopted a plan for a Jewish state alongside an Arab state in Palestine.
This was an important achievement for the Zionist movement, a cause for celebration and a foundational part of Israel’s history and its legitimacy. But the resolution was not the decisive factor in Israel’s birth. More crucial was the reality on the ground. By the time the United Nations passed the resolution, the foundations for a Jewish state were in place. Jews living in Palestine “had achieved a critical developmental and demographic mass,” as the historian . They were ready and determined. A United Nations resolution was just icing the cake.
Similarly, Jerusalem is unmistakably Israel’s capital, whether outsiders accept this fact or not. That’s not to say there aren’t challenges to this reality: the international community is not yet ready to accept it and the Palestinians claim that the city is theirs. The demographic realities are, indeed, tricky. About a third of the city’s residents are Arab. Nonetheless, the facts are the facts.
Truman proved himself a friend of the Jewish people, willing to take risks for what was right
In 1947, ahead of the United Nations vote, that “armed hostilities between Jews and Arabs will break out if the UN General Assembly accepts the plan to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.” President Harry Truman decided to support partition despite the warnings. The CIA was right; the Arabs responded with violence, leading to Israel’s War of Independence. Thanks to that, the Jewish state was even larger than the borders mandated by the United Nations and the Palestinians still don’t have a state. But Truman was right, too; he proved himself a friend of the Jewish people, willing to take risks for what was right.
Will a statement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ignite a similar round of defiance and violence? It’s possible. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, that American recognition would “discourage many of those who still believe that a peaceful solution is achievable,” which sounds a lot like a veiled threat. Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza, to “incite an uprising in Jerusalem so that this conspiracy does not pass.”
It would be a great exaggeration to argue that Trump bears much resemblance to Harry Truman. But the president — often criticized for being blunt and never shying away from saying what he wants to say — will have his Trumanesque moment by refusing to pretend that Israel has no capital. If violence is the result of that, we will all regret it. But it is worth remembering that Truman’s recognition of Israel was also met with violence — and it is still remembered as a great American moment.
The New York Times