HONEST REPORTING - Apr 28, 2020 -
Why does that simple six-word statement raise such controversy? Can most of the world really be wrong to deny Jerusalem’s capital status? What exactly are the counter-arguments, and how effective is Israel at balancing principle and pragmatism in the city?
And does all the fuss — about the city’s political and legal status, the diplomatic missions, the conflicting claims — even really matter?
1. The basics of capital cities
Countries choose their capital and place most — if not all — of the main offices of government in that city. Period.
In most instances, the seat of executive, parliamentary, judicial and administrative authority is concentrated in that city. It’s where embassies are located and where visiting foreign officials meet the state leaders. Some capitals, such as London, Buenos Aires, or Bangkok, also happen to be the country’s center of population, economy or culture. Other capitals, such as Canberra or Brasilia, take a back seat to Sydney and Rio de Janeiro in those matters.
Countries which have changed capital cities are perfectly normal. Countries with multiple capitals are less common but accepted as well, dividing the seats of power executive, legislative, judicial and administrative power as they see fit.
Bottom line: The capital is wherever a country decides to make it. It makes no difference what other states say about that choice. That’s the standard behavior.
2. Jerusalem the capital: Historical context
So how did Jerusalem become the capital of ancient Jewish kingdoms and today’s modern Israel?
Jerusalem came under Israelite control when King David conquered the city (Samuel II, ch. 5.) and relocated his throne there from Hebron (ch. 6). His son, King Solomon, would build the First Temple years later. When the biblical kingdom split between Judah and Israel (Kings I ch. 12), Jerusalem remained the capital of Judah.
In 597 BCE, Nebuchanezzar sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylonia. But Cyrus II of Persia allowed the Jews to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple, as described in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah..
Fast forward to 140 BCE, when the Hasmoneans, a priestly family, rebelled against the Seleucid King Antiochus IV and purified the Temple in events commemorated by the holiday of Chanukah. The Hasmonean dynasty ruled from Jerusalem for a little over 100 years before the family was destroyed by the Romans, who installed Herod the Great as king. The Jews revolted against Roman rule, but the uprising was crushed in 70 CE.