March 17, 2010
What’s the Status of Jerusalem Under International Law?
The furor that’s erupted between the U.S. and Israel following Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to build 1,600 new apartments in a portion of East Jerusalem has is only made worse by the astonishing lack of accurate information circulating over the international legal status of Jerusalem. To whom does it belong? Who has a right to build there? Who recognizes that right? The worst way to answer that question is to read the op-ed pages, where each side advances its arguments as facts. And when it comes to arguments, few engage as many deep emotions as Jerusalem.
For instance: We just received a press release from B’nai B’rith Canada condemning the “disparaging” remarks of a Canadian minister who criticized Israel’s buiding in East Jerusalem as contrary to international law. Here it is:
Here’s the thing: the minister’s comments were precisely in keeping with Canadian—and international—law. Here is Canada’s official policy regarding Jerusalem:
In fact, most countries, including the United States, do not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem under the Jerusalem Law of July 30, 1980. The EU, the United Nations, the US, and most other countries happen not to recognize Israel’s right to build anywhere in East Jerusalem, even the neighborhoods that are solidly Jewish. I’m not arguing whether they should or shouldn’t—or even that the international law can’t or shouldn’t be challenged—I’m just saying that’s the fact.
The problem is, American and I suppose Canadian Jews have been hearing from their Israeli and pro-Israeli counterparts about united, indivisible, eternal Jerusalem for so long, they assume everyone else thinks that way as well. So we are shocked, shocked, when something we assume is ours is actually considered not ours.
Most countries—I think one exception is Germany—do not recognize all of Jerusalem as Israel’s, and so do not recognize Israel’s right to build wherever it wants there. Most countries say they will not recognize any final boundaries in Jerusalem until they are determined by agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That’s why Jerusalem is always mentioned as being part of “final status” talks.
By the way, even among Jews (even? especially!) the indivisibility of Jerusalem as a political entity is controversial. One of the most fascinating essays you’ll read on this was written by an Orthodox rabbi, Yosef Kanefsky, who contra to the position of his movement, accepts the idea of a divided Jewish capital.