On this day 68 years ago on December 13, 1949 the Knesset, the assembly of Israel voted to move the government and administration of Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The state of Israel was only a few months old at the time. Israel had been created through ever increasing Jewish migration to the region as Jews faced oppression, persecution and murder around the world because of their faith. This in turn exasperated the conflict between the mainly muslim population of the region and led to a series of armed conflicts. Large portions of the Muslim population were forced to flee to neighbouring countries creating the Palestinian refugee crisis that exists to this day.
The Jewish Israeli nationalists in the Zionist movement had first fought the British colonial power for the Protectorate of Palestine in the 1947–48 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine which ended with the Great Britain abandoning their claims and leaving the region. The US and USSR promptly recognised the new state of Israel, while the Arab culture neighbours of the new state did not. This in turn led to the 1948 Arab Israeli war, where Israel prevailed and defended the existence of the fledgling state. The Arab-Israeli war left Jerusalem divided, which it would stay until 1967.
Nevertheless, Jerusalem was proclaimed the capital of Israel, which was opposed by the US and the USSR as well as the vast majority of the international community. Nonetheless, after elections in January 1949, on February 14 1949, the constituting meeting of the Israel state assembly, the Knesset was held in Jerusalem, but the infrastructure of the ancient, war-torn city did not allow for a functioning government to be set up. As the first Prime Minister of Israel, Ben Gurion said 68 years ago:
“When the first Knesset was opened in Jerusalem on 14 February 1949, there were no adequate facilities for its normal functioning in the capital, and it was necessary to transfer its sessions temporarily to Tel Aviv. The required arrangements in Jerusalem are on the verge of completion, and there is nothing now to prevent the Knesset from returning to Jerusalem. We propose that you take a decision to this effect.”
While the two superpowers had regonized Israel as one state albeit without Jerusalem as a capital, the consensus in the UN took a different route and recognized two states, Israel and Palestine with Jerusalem as a protected region under international mandate. During the many armed conflicts that followed, this situation remained one of the key sources for conflict. Nevertheless 13 states established embassies in Jerusalem during the next thirty years.
In 1980 Israel passed the so called Jerusalem Law stating that an undivided Jerusalem was the capital of Israel alone and that the undivided borders settled for greater Jerusalem after the Six Day War of 1967 were inviolable. The UN responded with declaration 478 declaring that Jerusalem being Israel’s “complete and united” capital is a violation of international law. Eleven of the thirteen embassy’s closed within weeks and moved to other parts of Israel, mostly Tel Aviv. The two remaining embassies, Costa Rica and El Salvador moved away in 2006.
In 1995, the US government government finally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while most of the rest of the world holds the position that the City shall be the capital of both the state of Israel and the future state of Palestine under a two state peace solution. Every US President since Bill Clinton, has supported the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, but no US president until Donald J Trump has actually acted on it, despite almost all of them making election promises to do so.
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