The Status of Jerusalem
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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 The Status of Jerusalem

3/14/1999

 
  The Status of Jerusalem

March 1999

Jerusalem, the heart and soul of the Jewish people, plays a central role in Jewish culture, history and religion. Since 1004 B.C.E. when King David established Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish nation, there has remained a constant and enduring Jewish presence in the city. Moreover, Jewish liturgy, music, literature and poetry are replete with references to Jerusalem, or "Zion," the Biblical name of the city.

Holy city to three major religions, Jerusalem is the home to a unique concentration of religious sites. Since the city was reunified under Israeli sovereignty in 1967, the State of Israel has succeeded in protecting the rights of all religious groups to enjoy freedom of worship, and has restored and rebuilt Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places. In fact, at no other time in history have worshippers of all faiths enjoyed such a degree of religious freedom.

I. The Jewish claim to Jerusalem is rooted in 3,000 years of history

A. Jerusalem has been at the center of Jewish consciousness for over three thousand years, even before King David made it the capital of his kingdom in 1004 B.C.E. Such biblical events as the binding of Isaac and Jacob's ladder have traditionally been connected to Jerusalem. No other city has played such a predominant role in the history, culture, and religion of a people as has Jerusalem for the Jews. 'Jerusalem', or 'Zion', is mentioned over 800 times in the Jewish Bible.

B. Throughout the Diaspora, Jerusalem has always remained foremost in the thoughts of the Jewish people as they turned to Zion three times a day in prayer. Such everyday rituals as grace after meals or special ceremonies such as the 'Sheva Brachot' wedding blessings are replete with references to the Jewish people's yearning for their ancient capital. On holidays and festivals, Jews the world over bid one another the traditional farewell "Next year in Jerusalem!".

C. Jewish independence in the land of Israel, which ended in 70 C.E. and was renewed in 1948, marks the longest period of sovereignty over Jerusalem by any nation. No other nation can claim such a long political existence in the recorded history of this unique city.

D. Throughout all the periods of foreign rule over Jerusalem - Roman (70 C.E. - 324), Byzantine (324 - 614), Persian (614 - 640), Arab (640 - 1099), Crusader (1099 - 1291), Mamluk (1291 - 1516), and Ottoman Turk (1516 - 1918) - Jews were persecuted, massacred and subject to exile. In spite of this, the Jewish presence in Jerusalem remained constant and enduring.

E. Jews have always chosen to settle in Jerusalem. Since 1840, the Jews have constituted the largest ethnic group in the city, and they have held an uninterrupted majority in Jerusalem since the 1860's.

II. The Jewish claim to Jerusalem as their capital is unique

A. There has always been a national consensus in Israel on the status of Jerusalem. Since the reunification of the city in 1967, all Israeli Governments have declared their policy that united Jerusalem, Israel's eternal capital is one indivisible city under Israeli sovereignty and that free access to holy places and freedom of worship will continue to be guaranteed to members of all faiths.

B. Only twice has Jerusalem served as a national capital -- the capital of the Biblical Kingdoms of Israel and Judea before the Roman destruction of 70 C.E., and the capital of the modern State of Israel since the rebirth of the Jewish state in 1948.

C. Beside the Jewish people, no other nation or state which gained political sovereignty over the area had ever made Jerusalem a capital city. Both the Arab and Mamluk empires chose to rule from Damascus, while the Ottoman ruler resided in Constantinople. Furthermore, none of these empires even granted Jerusalem the status of district capital.

III. Historically Jerusalem is a United City

A. The nineteen year occupation of eastern Jerusalem -- the only time that the city was divided -- was the result of unprovoked attack followed by unrecognized annexation:

- On May 14, 1948 upon termination of the British mandate, Israel proclaimed its independence. Immediately following Israel's proclamation, the surrounding Arab countries attacked the fledgling state. The Arab Legion besieged the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

- On May 28, 1948 the Arab Legion overran the Jewish Quarter and eastern Jerusalem, while Israel held on to the Jewish populated western neighborhoods of the city. Jerusalem was divided for the first time in its history.

- In 1950, Transjordan annexed the West Bank and Jerusalem, in an act which was neither recognized by the world community (except for two countries), nor by the other Arab states.

B. On June 5, 1967 an unprovoked Arab attack was launched on the Jewish populated western neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Indiscriminate artillery bombardment damaged religious sites, hospitals, and schools across the 1949 armistice line; the U.N. headquarters south of Jerusalem was seized, and enemy troops began to enter nearby Jewish neighborhoods.

C. Israeli Defense Forces repelled the invasion, and on June 7 they retook the Old City, reuniting Jerusalem. The barbed wire and concrete barriers which had divided Jerusalem were finally torn down, and Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration was extended to the eastern neighborhoods of the city.

D. Jerusalem is and has always been an undivided city, except for this 19 year period. There is no justification for this short period to be viewed as a factor in determining the future of the city, and to negate 3,000 years of unity.

IV. There is no basis for a 'Corpus Separatum' status for Jerusalem

A. There is no basis in international law for the position supporting a status of 'Corpus Separatum' (separate entity) for the city of Jerusalem. This concept originated in a proposal contained in the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 1947, which dealt with the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine. It should be recalled that the idea was a non-binding proposal, which never materialized, having become irrelevant when the Arab states rejected the UN Resolution, and invaded the fledgling State of Israel.

B. There has never been any agreement, treaty, or international understanding which applies the 'Corpus Separatum' concept to Jerusalem.

C. For these reasons, Israel views the 'Corpus Separatum' solution as nothing more than one of many inappropriate historical attempts made to examine possible solutions for the status of the city.

V. Jerusalem's Arabs and the Israel-Palestinian Negotiations

A. Immediately following Israel's reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, Jerusalem's Arab residents were offered full Israeli citizenship, though most declined to accept it.

B. Nevertheless, those who chose not to accept Israeli citizenship, retain the right, as residents of the city, to participate in municipal elections and enjoy all economic, cultural and social benefits afforded to Israeli citizens such as Israel's health funds, social security services, and membership in Israel's Labor Federation.

C. The civil right of Palestinian Arabs to maintain their own non-political humanitarian, educational and social institutions was reiterated by Israel during the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

D. However, according to the Israel-Palestinian Declaration of Principles of 1993 - the basis of the present negotiations - political institutions of the Palestinian self-governing authority are not to operate in the city.

VI. The Israeli Consensus on Jerusalem -
Culturally Diverse -- Politically United

The status of Jerusalem as the permanent capital of the State of Israel has been reiterated by all Israel governments since the establishment of the State in 1948:

A. In 1949, Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, acted to reconstitute the seat of government in Jerusalem, and Israel's Parliament, the Knesset, was reconvened in the city in December of that year.

B. Following the reunification of Jerusalem during the course of the 1967 Six Day War, together with the extension of Israeli jurisdiction and administration over east Jerusalem, the Knesset passed the Preservation of the Holy Places Law, 1967 which ensured protection and freedom of access to the holy sites of the city.

C. In 1980, the Knesset legislated the 'Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel', which restates the position that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel" and the seat of its main governing bodies. It also reiterates Israel's commitment to protecting the holy places and to developing the city.

D. On May 28, 1995, then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated, "In 1980, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law. All governments of Israel, including the present government, have been fully confident that what was determined in 1967, what was legislated in 1980 transforming Jerusalem into a unified city under Israeli sovereignty, the capital of Israel, the heart of the Jewish people -- these are facts that will endure for eternity".


The status of Jerusalem is unique. Politically and spiritually, Jerusalem was, is and always will be the capital of the Jewish people. Yet, at the same time, it plays a significant role in the religious identity of hundreds of millions of believers in the monotheistic faiths. The Arab world views Jerusalem as one -- albeit not the most significant -- of their holy places. Furthermore, while almost three-quarters of Jerusalem's citizens are Jewish, many Palestinian Arabs also call the city their home. For these reasons, Israel has agreed to address Jerusalem-related issues in the permanent status phase of the current peace negotiations.

In conclusion, in light of the unique significance that the city of Jerusalem holds for the Jewish people, the Israeli government has consistently reiterated its position that while religious and cultural rights of all the city's communities must be guaranteed -- Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of the State of Israel, undivided, under exclusive Israeli sovereignty.

 
 
 
 
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