London, Paris, Rome—cities that are familiar to most Americans. And even if you can’t find them on the map, you know that it only takes a few clicks to learn all you need to know about them. (Buckingham Palace, where the Queen lives. The Eiffel Tower, completed in 1889. Three coins in the Trevi Fountain.)
If you do look at the map—Siri has probably found one for you by now—you’ll notice that all three cities are the capitals of their respective countries.
You may wonder how cities get to be capitals. Stop. Don’t ask Siri. It’s very simple. The countries just pick a city, and the word out gets out. That’s it. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Unless the city is Jerusalem. Yes, Jerusalem is Israel’s capital city. It’s not something new, and it has nothing to with anything President Trump said. Remember the rule: A country gets to name its capital. No other country or individual has any say in the matter. Pretty simple, right?
But if you find it surprising, you’re in good company. Israel chose Jerusalem as its capital almost 70 years ago. Yet most of the press and political leaders worldwide are just now getting up to speed.
To his great credit, President Trump was not constrained by whatever handicap prevented so many others from stating the obvious. “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital,” said Trump
In May 1948, the State of Israel declared its independence, and Israel’s founding fathers chose Jerusalem to be the fledgling state’s capital. It was an easy choice. In fact, it was a fait accompli. When you have a city that was good enough to be the capital for King David some 3,000 years earlier, and that city is where Solomon chose to build the Holy Temple, you don’t need to look elsewhere.
As clear a choice as this was for Israel, it didn’t go over well with most countries, including the United States. They had their reasons: bad ones. But, of course, nothing really mattered. The choice was Israel’s to make, and Israel would not be deterred.
And the United States and other nations, what did they do? They took a very diplomatic approach: they punted . . . all the way to Tel Aviv. Nice city—restaurants, beaches. But it wasn’t Israel’s capital.
That’s why, just the past week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a “read my lips” moment, had to state the obvious to the visiting French President Emmanuel Macron: “Paris is the capital of France. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”
Realizing that Macron didn’t know much about history, Netanyahu added that Jerusalem has “been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years. It’s been the capital of the Jewish state for 70 years.”
Poor Macron. He’s new to all this and simply marches to the beat of the same old drummers. A more sophisticated President Trump marched in with his own band, and his band had its own hot riffs. “Today, we finally acknowledged the obvious, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Trump said. “This is nothing more than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do.”
Congress tried to do the right thing more than 20 years ago when it passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. Not that Israel, a democratic sovereign nation, needed an act of Congress to remind the world that “each sovereign nation . . . may designate its own capital.” But it couldn’t hurt.
Of course, it didn’t help either. It simply fell on deaf ears. Even recent U.S. presidents (Clinton, Bush, Obama) found a way to skirt the law’s dictates. They never recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (dictate No. 1), or established the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem (dictate No. 2).
So why all the fuss about this one city? Or, to put it another way: Why is this city different than all other cities in the whole world?
If you’ve never been to Jerusalem, you’re probably thinking Jerusalem is all about Western Walls, Temple Mounts, Old Cities, Jewish Quarters and Arab Quarters. So maybe something about these antiquities poses some kind of problem, and proscribes Jerusalem from being a capital city.
Well, Jerusalem is all that. But it’s a lot more. Jerusalem is also modern high-rise buildings, the sprawling campus of Hebrew University, Malcha Mall with its huge kosher food court, Hadassah Hospital, a spanking new and luxurious Waldorf Astoria. In order words, Jerusalem is just like London, Paris and Rome. A thriving capital city.
It was too much to expect the United Nations to stay out of this. So just the other day, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, had to take time off from her Christmas shopping to veto a Security Council resolution condemning the Jerusalem pronouncement. She had a few choice words for the council including: “The United States will not be told by any country where we can put our embassy.” She might have added: “Next year in Jerusalem.” And posted the drapery fabric on Instagram.
Did they listen? Are they backing down? Of course not. The General Assembly on Thursday is scheduled to meet in an “emergency” session to demand the United States withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem. On Twitter, Haley had this to say:
At the UN we’re always asked to do more & give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thurs there’ll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names. pic.twitter.com/ZsusB8Hqt4
— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) December 19, 2017
It’s going to be a long list. Perhaps Siri can help Ambassador Haley alphabetize it.