Naftali Bennett is Israel’s minister of education and minister of diaspora affairs. He has been a member of the security cabinet since 2013 and has led the Jewish Home party since 2012.
President Trump’s decision to allow the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act to move forward is historic. At the most basic level, it states what has been obvious to Jews for thousands of years: Jerusalem is, has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people. This notion was formally adopted by Israel when it named Jerusalem its capital in December 1949. For too many years, however, foreign countries continued to site their embassies in Tel Aviv, a symbolic statement with a clear message — a refusal to recognize Jerusalem, even West Jerusalem, as the country’s capital.
By moving its embassy to Jerusalem, the United States is making a statement: Israel is no longer a second-class country whose capital isn’t recognized by the world. Although we are a small country, we have long punched above our weight in the international arena. By acknowledging Jerusalem as our capital, President Trump has given us the respect and dignity all other nations have enjoyed for a long time.
We would never question Britain’s, Germany’s or Canada’s choice of their capital city. So we would never dream of locating our embassies anywhere but in London, Berlin or Ottawa. Capital cities are determined by the governments of the states, not by outsiders or visiting diplomats. Yet even though Israel has long made clear that Jerusalem is its capital, we have been disrespected and our decision ignored. Today, that starts to change.
Yes, we might disagree with many governments about the future of East Jerusalem. From our perspective the Holy Basin — including Temple Mount, the Western Wall, Mount of Olives and the City of David — will always be an integral part of Israel. Others do not share this view. Yet even those who argue with us about the eastern parts of the city understand that West Jerusalem is Israel’s seat of government. Ambassadors to Israel present their credentials at the President’s Residence, visit government offices and meet in the Knesset – yet these countries locate their embassies elsewhere. Despite our diplomatic argument, despite a difference of opinion on East Jerusalem’s final status, having an embassy in West Jerusalem, in the areas everyone knows are and will remain Israeli, is the most natural thing. There is no other country whose capital is questioned by the world, and Israel should not suffer from such discrimination.
Jerusalem once hosted many foreign embassies, from Africa, Latin America and even Europe. None of these embassies closed immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War. Instead, they were shut down one by one, because of Arab political and diplomatic pressure starting after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Dutch and Colombian embassies, as well as others that operated in Jerusalem until 1980, showed that the move to Tel Aviv was nothing but a political choice.
Just as we welcome the American embassy, there are already others, including Guatemala and Paraguay, following Washington’s lead and planning their embassies’ relocation to Jerusalem. This trend will only grow, and I look forward to the day when having an embassy in Jerusalem will be the norm, not the exception.